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If you're reading this site, you're a true Michigan fan. The type that yells "Go Blue" at anyone with two legs and block M on her shirt.
Your commitment goes beyond packing the Big House on Saturdays each fall. You still remember how the sun set over the Rose Bowl in 1998 as Michigan beat Washington State to capture a national title.
Michigan football has rewarded your commitment by winning a lot of football games. The program has the most wins and best winning percentage among all college football programs. This success has been consistent, well, except for a recent 3 year stretch.
The bottom panel shows how a computer algorithm viewed Michigan football each year. The Power Rank algorithm takes a team's margin of victory in each game and adjusts it for their schedule. It makes a difference whether a team plays in the Big Ten or MAC. Last year, Michigan was rated higher (26th) than Northern Illinois (44th) despite having a worse record.
The rating for each team gives an expected margin of victory against an average FBS team. The difference in ratings of two teams gives a predicted margin of victory on a neutral field. For example, Michigan was predicted to beat Michigan State by 5.7 points (including 3 points for a home game at the Big House) last season. Michigan won 12-10. While the visual shows year end ratings, the calculations from before bowl season have predicted 62.8% of bowl game winners over the last 11 years.
These insights into Michigan football jump out from the visual.
23 Years of Sustained Excellence
In 1984, sophomore QB Jim Harbaugh got hurt in the fifth game of the season. Bo didn't have a suitable replacement. Michigan struggled to 6-6 record, finishing 36th in The Power Rank.
For the next 23 years, Michigan football never finished out of the top 25 of the rankings. The teams coached by Bo Schembechler, Gary Moeller and Lloyd Carr showed remarkable consistency.
The Rich Rodriguez Years
This consistency came to an abrupt halt when Carr retired and Rich Rodriguez took over as coach. The dip in rating over these 3 years looks like the Grand Canyon compared with Michigan's results on both sides of this era. Rodriguez's teams won more games as the offense picked up his spread scheme. However, the poor defense kept team rating negative during those 3 years.
Michigan had a terrible time with turnovers under Rodriguez. Turnover margin in football is like flipping a coin. The randomness implies that a team with poor turnover margin should do better the following season. However, regression to the mean does not rescue every team. Rodriguez's teams had a consistently terrible turnover margin, with 10, 12, and 10 more giveaways than takeaways in his 3 years.
Boring wins football games
Lloyd Carr did not play the most exciting brand of football. Run, run, pass on offense. Very predictable and boring.
But Lloyd Carr won 122 football games in his 13 years as head coach. He claimed 5 Big Ten titles and a national championship in 1997.
How did he do it? Craig Ross, author of The Obscene Diaries of a Michigan Fan, told me that Carr attempted to "minimize the vagaries of talent and injuries". He probably had turnovers on his mind as well.
To a mathematician like myself, this quote means he understood randomness and tried to minimize its impact on his team. The calculated ratings from 1995 to 2007 show the consistent results from this philosophy. Similar to the San Antonio Spurs of the NBA, Carr put his team in position to win every year. He broke through with a national championship in 1997. Who cares that the algorithm thinks the Big Ten had a down year?
And for anyone who doubts boring wins football, just remember what happened when the exciting spread offense showed up after Carr retired.
The hidden strength of 2005 team
The remarkable 23 years in the top 25 of the rankings includes 2005. Most fans will not remember the 7-5 season fondly, but Michigan finished 10th in The Power Rank.
How can a team with 5 losses get ranked so highly? The Power Rank considers margin of victory and strength of schedule in ranking teams. A team gets credit for staying close with good teams. In 2005, Michigan lost by 4 points to 3rd ranked Ohio State, 7 points to 6th ranked Notre Dame, and 3 points to 19th ranked Wisconsin.
The 2005 team was much better than their record indicated. The Power Rank rated them two touchdowns better than the average FBS team. The core of Jake Long, Chad Henne and Mario Manningham along with a healthy Mike Hart would lead Michigan to an 11-0 start the following year.
Bo's best team was in 1988
Of the last 7 years of Bo Schembechler's coaching tenure, which team was the beat? The 1985 team that beat Nebraska in the Fiesta Bowl? Or the 1986 team that finished with 11 wins?
Actually, the ranking algorithm gives a slight edge to the 1988 team. Michigan opened the season with a 2 point loss at Notre Dame. The following week, the Wolverines lost an agonizing 1 point game to Miami when the Hurricanes recovered an onside kick to set up a winning field goal. However, The Power Rank considers margin of victory and strength of schedule in rankings teams. Miami and Notre Dame would finish the season 1st and 2nd (Notre Dame won the national title with an undefeated season).
Michigan went on beat USC in the Rose Bowl and finish 4th in the rankings. The algorithm states they were a point and a half better than the 1985 team. However, the algorithm does not make any kind of definitive statement on the best team. To put this in perspective, the 1988 has a 53% chance of beating the 1985 team on a neutral field.
Get a free postcard of the Michigan visual
As Michigan enters the third year of the Brady Hoke era, the program appears to be climbing out of the Grand Canyon of the Rodriguez years. The Power Rank will continue to use analytics and visualization to break down the program in detail. For example, I apply the algorithm to yards per play to account for strength of schedule in ranking offense and defense.
The best way to keep up to date with this analysis is my free email newsletter. If you sign up, I'll send a postcard of the Michigan visual to you and the next biggest Michigan fan you know. To check it out, click here.
I'm not entirely sure what to think of this promotional Youtube video for Arizona football, but I think it is hilarious.
Okay, this is kind of crazy and nutty, but I thought at least some of you might enjoy this college football riff on Les Miz.
Mod edit: Added to the title to head off some of the same comments we got in the last thread with a similar title. JGB.
Edit II: Woah, completely missed the joke in there. Sorry.
So, I haven't been to Eleven Warriors, one of the better Ohio blogs, for about a month, or before the game in Columbus. I happened to run over, and whaddaya know, they have a full column by Johnny Ginter focusing on Rich Rodriguez and Michigan.
I guess this is what you can expect when they are going through a bowl ban and have nothing to write about in terms of Ohio football. The piece has been up for a day or so, is about Michigan, and actually references mgoblog and Brian several times. For some of you, it will be an interesting read.
I'm not going to put a whole bunch of quotes in: if you're interested, go to the link. If you're not, well, I didn't waste your time. Basically, Ginter goes through the whole thing of Rodriguez being a decent coach who made some missteps, was never given a real chance by Michigan, being both mistreated and having some rotten luck.
However, I'll put in two quotes that were intriguing.
So now you have a choice, Buckeye fans. Do you root for the guy, knowing that each successive victory angers the Wolverine fanbase in a vague, irritating way? Or do you root against him, forcing him to walk the earth as a shadow, forever branded with the mark of Cain that is Michigan football?
You can link to see which way Ginter goes.
The other quote is from a Michigan fan in the comments, regarding our blog:
You could send MGoBlog into a complete meltdown with this post. Not because it is in any way inflammatory; it isn't. But because anything related to Rodriguez now seems to divide Michigan fans. Through no fault whatsoever of Brian Cook (always fair to Rodriguez, and sometimes critical of Rodriguez such as when Brian Cook was about the first person anywhere to doubt the wisdom of Greg Robinson), the mostly anti-Rodriguez MGo readership -- with many notable exceptions -- sort of convulses in a denial of service attack whenever Rodriguez's name comes up.
I kind of agree with this analysis, and can see why Brian wants to just roll his eyes, disappear, and put his fingers in his ears when RR comes up . . . "LA LA LA LA LA LA I Can't hear you LA LA LA LA have you gone away yet LA LA LA LA LA."
Hopefully we'll be able to have rational and non-meltdown discourse on RR at some point in the future.
One thing for sure (unrelated to the Eleven Warriors Blog) is a terrible legacy of RR: his recruiting, even for the different "spread" scheme, has set Michigan back, and left Hoke at a disadvantage. It irks me to have heard the "cupboard bare" complaints about Carr, when Hoke and Mattison and Borges have not complained once (that I've seen) about the players they inherited, but have made do and coached them up.
Without numerous mentions of UMich (past, present, and future ... no kidding) this would probably be too "OT" for the board:
Opinions expressed in the article (such as the one about Gardner) are not necessarily those of the OP.
There is a myth that lives on this board that Denard was a better passer in 2010. This post is not meant to excuse Al Borges' playcalling, or bash Rich Rod, or elevate Lloyd Carr's run-run-run-punt strategy. It's just a look at the falsity that Denard was a better passer in 2010.
The unfortunate, painful truth that this diary reveals is that our passing offense is not much better than it was in 2010, when it wasn't very good at all (when it mattered).
Let's throw out the garbage games and focus on Michigan's games against opponents that had respectable defenses in 2010:
- Ohio (3rd in total yds)
- Iowa (16th in total yds)
- Wisconsin (23rd in total yds)
- Michigan State (32nd in total yds)
You might be wondering, "Where is Notre Dame and Penn State on that list?" Well, I'm glad you asked. They were 46th and 48th...behind powerhouses like San Diego State, Hawaii, and ILLINOIS!!! (the team we scored 67 points against). So they sucked. But we still lost to Penn State. Even though they sucked. Because our defense was, well, worser.
I don't need to lay out the stats from the ohio game. They trounced us, and Denard got pulled in favor of Forcier at the end of the game. We couldn't move the ball at all, and scored only 7 points.
Let's move on to Iowa...
Their defense was ranked 16th in 2010, and yet we were able to score 28 points. This is actually the best comparable for this weekend's Notre Dame game, since ND is ranked 17th in total defense right now. Yes, we lost the game by a score of 28-38, and those four TDs sure do look good...but only because you either don't remember what happened or judge a book (or score) by it's cover (or...score). Here are some relevant stats:
- Denard 13/18, 98 yds, 1 TD, 1 INT
- Forcier 17/26, 239, 1 TD, 2 INT
But here's the most important stat: We only scored 7 points when Denard was on the field. Denard get could get yards (108 on 18 carries) but not points. Iowa was stacking the box, and all the offense could muster was a TD on a drive when Denard threw three passes: one was incomplete, one was for a 6 yd. loss, and the last was a screen to Smith for an 8 yd. TD. Denard got hurt in the 3rd quarter and in came Forcier.
It was Forcier that brought the team back in that game, and Forcier that sealed our fate with his INTs. It's worth noting that completing passes underneath when you're behind by 21 points is MUCH easier. In fact, that leads to lots of confusion about the effectiveness of Denard's passing and the 2010 offense in general: we got loads of "soft" yards because we were hopelessly behind and our opponents played softer coverages and lighter fronts.
Wisconsin has a similar storyline, except that Denard played much more that game. We scored exactly ZERO points in the first half (although we did miss a 30 yd. field goal). With a 24 point lead, Wisconsin converted to prevent defense, and allowed us back in the game. Denard stayed in this time, and racked up a nice, meaningless statline: 16/25 for 239 yds, 2 TDs, and, of course, 1 INT. The important part: Denard was 4/9 for 22 yds passing in the first half. When Wisconsin was playing their base defense, Denard couldn't pass. Only the gooey butter cake version of Wiscy's D allowed DR some meaningless passing yardage. Further proof of this came in the fourth quarter, when we had come back to make it a 21-31 game. Denard couldn't move the ball anymore.
The final example is, perhaps, the most damning. Michigan State had a good-but-not-great defense in 2010. Their success was largely a result of their schedule and some good defensive coaching. They lost badly to Iowa (and 'Bama), snuck by a pretty lousy ND team in overtime, and narrowly edged out a VERY average Penn State team. Their only quality win was against Wisconsin, and that game was played in East Lansing. Despite their easy schedule, the Spartan defense was still only ranked 32nd in total yds. Michigan actually had the lead twice in this game, up 3-0 in the first quarter and 10-7 in the second. Denard was 6/8 for 51 yds in the first quarter, but threw an INT in the endzone. In the second quarter, Denard shined again. He was 4/6 for 81 yds and a TD. At the half, Michigan was down 10-17.
The second half was a very, very different story. Denard was 7/15 for 82yds and 2 INTs. The same guy we saw against ND. Only against a defense that wasn't nearly as good. And we were at home. The 4th quarter TD was only scored after MSU had rung-up a 21 point lead.
So here's the bottom line: Denard has never been a good passer, or even an average passer. And against good defenses, we won't win until he's able to throw the ball somewhat effectively. Maybe that's why Borges keeps making him throw, especially before the B1G season starts.
So what's the difference between now and 2010? The defense. Because our Greg defense is not our GERG defense, we are in every game, and teams don't stop stacking the box against Denard. They don't stop blitzing. They don't play soft coverage. So Denard never gets to ring-up his stats, and looks even worse.
I certainly won't excuse Borges' playcalling on Saturday--it needed to be better. But the fact is that our only quality wins have come when Denard has been able to make plays in the passing game (or Hemingway was able to bail out Denard) and I expect it stay that way. If Denard can't pass, we're screwed, and 4 or 5 losses is our best case scenario.