at least it's not just us?
Who’s Who in College Football—or Which OOC Team is Most Like a Big 10 Team:
I’m interested by similarities between teams in different parts of the country. Some teams just should be good. Some teams just should suck. This goes beyond who is the current coach and the team’s record over the past five years, but extends into areas that include demographics, recruit density, tradition, and conference affiliation. Schools with everything going in their favor should be strong, even if they aren’t historically, and those who don’t shouldn’t be as good over the long run. For example, Boise State just shouldn’t be as good as Texas—even if Boise State decided to pour the same amount of money into football as Texas. They simply don’t have the necessary recruiting base, tradition, or exposure to draw the recruits required to compete with Texas—despite Boise’s relatively strong program. With the long dark offseason upon us, I’m thinking of some comparative projects to occupy my college football obsession over the next eight months.
With that in mind, I’ve identified a team to match with each team in the Big 10 from elsewhere in the country. This isn’t about who had the best and worst records this year or even in the last five. It’s about looking at the whole picture and determining who is most similar to schools in the Big 10. I’ll save Michigan for last, and I’m interested to see what everyone’s thoughts are. This isn’t meant to be a definitive list or an insult to any school, rather something to foster discussion and force me to learn more about the greater college football landscape.
Ohio State = Texas
To me, this is the
easiest comparison to make. Ohio and
Texas are two of the most populous states in the Union, with Ohio at number 7
and Texas at number 2. Each state has a
very large public university system, with Ohio State and Texas clearly standing
out as the flagship schools for both states (I know Miami, not that Miami, is a
solid school—but tOSU is vastly improved academically and is clearly Ohio’s
flagship school). Texas does produce
significantly more talent as a state than Ohio, but I think the top recruits
available per school are relatively similar because Texas supports so many more
BCS teams (4, 5 with TCU to 2 for Ohio).
There were 13 Rivals 100 recruits in Texas to four in Ohio last year.
The football teams are obviously similar today and over time. Ohio State is number 5 all-time in winning percentage and Texas is number 3. Both teams have been elite over time and there is no reason to think that either school will falter soon. The programs are also considered to be among the most valuable, according to Forbes, with Texas ranked number 1 and OSU at number 8. You could even drill down further with the comparison. They have had iconic coaches, Hayes and Royal, iconic players, Griffin and Young, along with numerous titles and conference dominance. Ohio State may be coming out of a long period of struggling against elite competition, just like Texas when Big Game Bob Stoops was in his prime. Finally, each team has a historically elite level rival from a smaller state that poaches many of its best players from Texas/Ohio—Oklahoma and Michigan.
Ohio State and Texas
are elite football schools from football crazy states that should, based on
demographics, own their conferences and regions.
Other schools considered: Florida, USC
Penn State = Florida
Forget the obvious comparison between Bobby Bowden and Joe Paterno. Seriously, forget it. Despite each of those coaches building their program completely in their image and serving as the single most recognizable person affiliated with either school, the comparison still sticks when the coaches are ignored or marginalized in the analysis.
Pennsylvania is the 6th
most populous state while Florida is 4th. Florida is obviously one of the great
recruiting hotbeds for football talent, with 7 Rivals 100 recruits last
year. However, Pennsylvania holds its
own with 3. Neither school is the
strongest academic school in the state.
Pennsylvania has several top schools, such as Penn and Carnegie Mellon,
while Florida and Miami are both easily stronger academically than FSU.
Beyond the coaches, both teams are historically similar. Both were long-time independents, and joined the Big Ten and ACC soon after Arkansas agreed to join the SEC in 1990—signaling the death knell for the Southwest Conference and putting the writing on the wall for independents everywhere. By 1990, both programs were very strong, and were expected to dominate their conference upon entry. This definitely happened in FSU’s case, but not so much for Penn State.
As I previously stated,
I believe that FSU and Penn State are very similar without the coaches. When the coaches are incorporated, they
become extremely similar. I won’t bore
anyone with the details, but they are both great, all-time win list, etc and
the schools are both bracing for life after the program icon—with FSU having
Other schools considered:
Michigan State = Auburn
This was a tough
comparison in many ways. MSU is its own
special character, and finding it a partner wasn’t easy. Obviously, you can’t define MSU without
incorporating Michigan. MSU, perhaps
more than any team in the Big Ten is defined by its rival. While there were periods where MSU was
unquestionably better than Michigan, over time it isn’t even close. There are several schools that are
historically similar in addition to Auburn, such as Texas A&M and UCLA, but
I chose Auburn because of Michigan’s and Alabama’s (state not school)
Alabama is a much less populous state than Michigan, at number 23 to Michigan’s 8. However, it is surrounded by (and is) very fertile recruiting territory and is surrounded by some very populous states, such as Florida and Georgia. This enables Alabama to house two big time programs despite its relatively small size. While both schools have had periods of great success, Auburn for much of this decade and MSU in the 1960s, both have generally been overshadowed by their in-state rival.
Both schools are
considered to be relatively strong academically, but not at the level of their
in-state big brother—although the University of Alabama appears to fluctuate
quite a bit in the rankings I looked at.
They are both public institutions and long time members of their
Auburn and MSU are also both interesting because of their contrasting histories during the 1960s. Duffy Daugherty at MSU famously took many black recruits that schools like Auburn and Alabama couldn’t admit, and built a national power in the 1960s.
considered: Texas A&M, Oklahoma State, UCLA
Illinois = Virginia
Illinois and Virginia are
two of the schools whose lack of success in football is difficult to
fathom. Both are unquestionably old
money, high quality schools. The states
are relatively populous, with Virginia coming in at number 12 and Illinois at
number 5. Also, I lived in Northern
Virginia for about 18 months, and felt like Washington D.C. was almost a part
of the state. Assuming about half of the
population thinks the same thing, with the other half leaning towards Maryland;
the effective population expands to number 11 in the US. Both are long-time members of their
respective conferences, and have a solid recruiting base. Each has won two conference titles in the
last 25 years.
Given their population,
history, and status as the flagship public school in a populous state, both
schools should be much better at football.
Unfortunately for them, each has failed to keep up with their more
powerful conference members. In
Illinois’ case, Notre Dame has also made life difficult for the football
program. Virginia has always been
overshadowed by their more powerful southern cousins in the SEC.
Other schools considered: California, Arizona
Wisconsin = Colorado
Before I started this research project, I would not have placed these two schools together. I started with the idea that Texas was very similar to Ohio State and how similar MSU was to teams like Auburn and Texas A&M, but I had very little to go on for the rest of the conference. First, Colorado and Wisconsin are similar in population, ranking 22 and 20 respectively. Neither is a hotbed of top recruiting talent, producing one Rival’s 100 recruit each in 2008. Both are good, quality schools in pretty fun college towns.
They are pretty similar football wise, although Wisconsin has had much more success the past 15 years. Wisconsin has six Rose Bowl berths, two since 1998 and has emerged as a solid 3rd or 4th team most years in the Big Ten. Colorado was one of the stronger Big 8 teams right before the Big 12 was created, including a national title in 1990, but has fallen on hard times recently under Gary Barnett and Dan Hawkins.
These schools are examples of schools that shouldn’t be very good. Both are a long way relative to their opposition from the population centers that produce their conference’s best recruits, Texas in the Big 12 and Ohio/Pennsylvania in the Big 10 and they don’t have elite tradition on their side. Wisconsin has built its niche in the Big 10 by being the only Big 10 team that still plays classic Big 10 meat grinder football, and Colorado likely needs to find a similar formula to build its success.
Other schools considered: Arkansas, Missouri, Nebraska
Iowa is really
hard. It is the least populous state in
the Big 10 footprint, yet it is a top 30 public school. They have solid football history, including
eleven Big 10 titles. It is difficult to
find a school that matches it demographically, is strong academically, and has
a solid football background. I picked
Arkansas for several reasons, delineated below.
Arkansas is behind Iowa academically by about forty spots according to US News. However, it is still a solid school and has an underrated football history, like Iowa. Arkansas has 13 conference titles to its credit, and both schools claim one national title. Demographically, they are similar. Iowa is the 31st most populous state, while Arkansas is number 33. Each is the smallest state by population in their conference and produces similar top talent. Iowa had one top 100 player last year while Arkansas had two. Both are traditionally behind their more powerful rivals, but have been able to remain competitive.
Minnesota = Syracuse
Did you know both schools didn’t always suck at football? Both schools are northern programs far, far away from the recruiting hotbeds in the South and West. Both recently played in really crappy dome stadiums despite the potentially massive advantage of playing outdoors in a northern stadium. Minnesota moved out of the Humpty Dome last year, but the Carrier Dome still lives.
Minnesota was actually
Michigan’s first real rival, having excellent teams in the 30s, 40s, and 60s,
with the Little Brown Jug going back to 1903.
Both Syracuse and Minnesota were early beneficiaries of integration,
especially Syracuse with Jim Brown and Ernie Davis. Each have solid academic programs in very
Other schools considered: Oregon
Northwestern = Stanford
Obvious, right? The only other good options were Duke and
Vanderbilt, but they’ve shown very little inclination to be serious about
football in the last long time, even though Duke has had success in the distant past.
Other schools considered: Duke, Vanderbilt
Purdue = Maryland
Both schools are solid schools in similarly sized states. Each is easily overshadowed by their more powerful neighbors. Each claims one national title and several conference titles. Both schools have had recent success, but show no signs of breaking through and competing year in and year out for titles.
Other schools considered: Pitt
Indiana = Washington State
Both historically suck,
can you tell I have nothing to say about Indiana? The states are similarly sized, with
Washington at 13 and Indiana at number 16.
Washington produced zero top 100 players last year, while Indiana had
one. Indiana has played in nine bowl
games, while Wazzu has played in 10.
Both have losing records to Michigan (and just about everyone else) and lay claim to
fountains of unintentional comedy—Lee Corso and Ryan Leaf.
Other schools considered: Kansas, Iowa State
Michigan = Oklahoma
I really think this is a great comparison for many reasons. However, I want to get the glaring weakness out of the way first. The University of Oklahoma may be the best school in the state and the best school for many, many country miles, but it is not even close to Michigan. Enough said, right?
I chose Oklahoma for
Michigan over everyone else for the reasons below. However, because this is a Michigan blog, I
want to explain how I eliminated everyone else. Michigan, like every other
team, is defined partly by the demographics and history of its conference. If we accept the Big 2 (tOSU and Michigan)
premise that most years those should be the best teams in the Big Ten based on
historical success, then no one in the PAC 10, Big East, or ACC closely matches
Michigan’s situation. Each has its historical
strong school, but not two or more historical juggernauts. I could place FSU and Virginia Tech here with the ACC, but
I don’t believe they match Michigan and Ohio State’s situation because there isn’t a historical rivalry and neither has the same amount of
history. The SEC has two teams that are
close to Michigan's situation, Tennessee and Alabama.
I discounted Tennessee because their monster rival from a bigger state
(Florida) hasn’t been as good for as long as tOSU and they have only played 39
times to 106 for Michigan-Ohio State and 99 for Texas-OU. Alabama was discounted because they don’t
have a great out of state rivalry that has mattered nationally like Michigan-Ohio
Football-wise, these schools are very similar. Both are very old money. Each claims 42 conference titles and many national titles. Both schools have had some of the best coaches out there, and continue to be relevant today. Despite their astonishing success, neither is a recruiting hotbed. Each school must poach most of its top players from elsewhere in their conference footprint and nationally.
I find the most
intriguing similarity to be the comparison between Oklahoma and the members of the
Big 12 to Michigan and the members of the Big 10. Both schools are either the best or second
best school in just about each meaningful modern statistic in their respective
conference: conference titles, All-Americans, wins, etc. Both schools have a much larger school to the
south that is its traditional rival, Texas and tOSU. Both schools down south hold just about every
advantage over Michigan and Oklahoma.
They are in top recruiting states and should be consistently better
based on demographics. Yet Michigan and
Oklahoma claim more conference titles and national championships than their
bigger rival. Each even has an upstart
little brother in-state that claims to be their most important rival!
Michigan and Oklahoma defy the odds to remain relevant. Assuming most recruits like to stay near home and a similar commitment to football excellence by all D-1 programs, neither would be as strong as they are. However, tradition and commitment to excellence have kept both relevant and powerful.
considered: Alabama, Tennessee
Again, this is meant for fun, and not as a definitive list. There is no perfect comparison, and each school is very different. I’m interested to hear everyone’s thoughts.
Expected PointsMichigan actually held a pretty nice advantage in field position for the day. Based on starting field position, Michigan had an expected advantage of 22 points vs 17 for Wisconsin. Both sides gave up points vs expectation as the offense scored 17 themselves, five less than an average team would given their field position. The defense was a little bit further from average, allowing 45 (and scoring 7) a full four TDs worse than average.
Rush OffensePredicted: +0
The first matchup, where the rubber meets the road. This is clearly a huge battle of strength vs strength. If Michigan is going to win on Saturday, they have to find success in the running game.Michigan did not find success in the running game and they did not win on Saturday, but you already knew that. Michigan's performance on the ground was really bad and in a matchup of strengths, it was clear that the Wisconsin defense was the stronger of the two forces. Michigan's -7 was the second worst rushing performance of the weekend, trailing only Virginia's performance at Boston College.
Pass OffensePredicted: +1
Michigan's offense will need to find points and opportunity wherever it can and a third straight [passing] game in the +'s could come in very handy.After the disappointing showing by the running game, the passing game continues to show marked improvement. This was Michigan's best showing through the air in the Big 10 this year and their third straight week of improvement in the passing game.
Roy Roundtree continued his progression as the most consistent threat in Michigan's evolving passing game. Roundtree went +6 after going +10 and +6 in the last two games.
Rush DefensePredicted: -5
Best case scenario here is probably a Penn State like performance where Wisconsin gets 150-200 yards but it takes 40+ carries to get there.All in all, for this run defense this could have gone much worse. At the same time, it did not by any stretch go well. Especially when you factor in what the Badgers did through the air, the ground game in a strange way became secondary and 250 yards against as a secondary is something any offense would love.
Pass DefensePredicted: -1
I don't consider anything a sure thing the way Michigan's pass defense has looked lately, but this is a Wisconsin team that doesn't show any major indications of being able to greatly exploit it either.I was wrong.
PredictionsEnded the week 3-1-1 in my Big 10 picks with only Michigan letting me down.
The first matchup, where the rubber meets the road. This is clearly a huge battle of strength vs strength. If Michigan is going to win on Saturday, they have to find success in the running game. With some unique elements to Michigan's running game, there is at least the potential that they could provide a real challenge to the stout Wisconsin rush defense.
Michigan O: +3 (20)
Ignoring what appears to be a major outlier in the Illinois game, Michigan's rush offense has had their three best Big 10 performances over the last three weeks. In fact, if we selectively choose those three games, Michigan's run offense averages out to a spectacular +7.2, which if maintained over the course of the season, would be good for third nationally behind Georgia Tech and Nevada. Now that is obviously being very selective, but at the same time, there is nothing in the other 8 games that indicates Illinois was anything but an outlier and Iowa, PSU and Purdue have all been very solid games.
Wisconsin D: +3 (15)
This is a Wisconsin defense that essentially has not had a bad day of rushing defense all year. With that said, you can see that their overall value is highly inflated because MAC and WAC teams can't stop Northern Illinois and Fresno State on the ground and Wisconsin could. In the Big 10, Wisconsin is a good but not great +1.1, good for about 5th in the Big 10. Don't get me wrong, this is a very good run defense, but some of the numbers can be a bit misleading.
There is a huge challenge and what I believe to be a real opportunity for Michigan on the ground. If Wisconsin wins here, game over, if Michigan wins here, game on.
Pass OffenseNeither team has stood out here as either exceptionally good or exceptionally bad.
Michigan O: +1 (49)
Michigan's pass offense appears to be headed in the right direction. Against Illinois and Purdue Michigan posted its best passing performances since September. +3 and +5 are good but not great numbers, but Michigan's offense will need to find points and opportunity wherever it can and a third straight game in the +'s could come in very handy.
Wisconsin D: +0 (56)
It has been a very mixed bag in pass defense for the Badgers this year. A great game against Purdue and host of other solid performances have been tempered with last week's dreadful showing against Indiana and poor games against both Iowa and Minnesota. The Fresno and State games both netted out in the middle, but even those games featured quite a few yards, TD's and interceptions.
There will be no easy wins on the offensive side of the ball for Michigan this week, but Wisconsin has demonstrated that their defense can produce a wide range of outcomes, opening the door for Michigan to look good until...
Rush Defense...uh oh.
Michigan D: -2 (103)
This one doesn't look so hot. Still sitting in the triple digit national rankings after the debacle at Illinois, this is not the opponent to have an off day against. Because...
Wisconsin O: +3 (13)
Playing the selective game here, as well, if you remove the Iowa game Wisconsin is averaging about +6.5 in the those four games which is right where Michigan has been removing its bad game. The only difference is that Michigan has to face the very good Wisconsin rush defense and Wisconsin gets to face something less than that.
Best case scenario here is probably a Penn State like performance where Wisconsin gets 150-200 yards but it takes 40+ carries to get there.
Pass DefenseThis match-up is nearly identical to the Michigan pass offense in that both teams are decidedly average.
Michigan D: +1 (41)
This has been the one metric that has never felt quite right this year. The feeling is that surely this unit is much worse than 41st nationally. I have looked into this a lot and come up with a couple of ideas. There are a couple of things coming into play here. #1, started the year with a very strong September, putting up a big number against Western, holding our own against ND's 6th ranked passing game and then going 0 TD's 4 INT's over the next 3 games. #2, Warren's pick 6 against Iowa dramatically changed that game score. #3 and I think this is the biggest. The game of football is changing and tilting towards the pass. Performances in the past that would have seemed poor, are now closer to average as the passing games have evolved and a play calling balance shifts more towards the pass.
Wisconsin O: +0 (54)
Since the blowup against Michigan State in the Big 10 opener, Wisconsin has been on a bit of a rough stretch through the air. They have had a 2/7 TD/INT ratio and averaged nearly -3 over the last five games.
I don't consider anything a sure thing the way Michigan's pass defense has looked lately, but this is a Wisconsin team that doesn't show any major indications of being able to greatly exploit it either.
PaceThis will be another battle of contrasts as Michigan takes its 12.1 possessions a game against a Wisconsin team that has kept its games under the 11 mark.
TurnoversWith the exception of throwing picks, Wisconsin has been about as average as they get in the turnover department. Overall the point impact (not turnover margin) of turnovers for Wisconsin has been -4, 69th nationally. They have a higher volume of both picks thrown and caught and are right in the middle on both fumble categories.
Special TeamsMichigan should have a decided advantage over the mediocre special teams of Wisconsin. If Olesnavage can regain his form and put last week out of his mind, Michigan should have the advantage of two solid kickers. With the exception of Michigan's kickoff return, don't expect a lot to happen on the other units as both punt teams outshine the oppositions return units and Wisconsin hasn't been great on kickoff return themselves. Stonum should have the opportunity to keep plugging away, however, as Wisconsin has one of the poorer kick coverage units in the conference.
PredictionsWisconsin 35 Michigan 27
Wisconsin's rushing game and a bit of home field advantage provide the difference. There appear to be opportunities for Michigan to close the gap, but the gap between these teams right now is very real. Has the potential to be a very interesting game.
Penn State 35 Indiana 13
Illinois 24 NW 21
Ohio St 17 Iowa 7
Purdue 28 Michigan St 31
Dumb Wisconsin Laws
• No male is allowed to be in a state of arousal in public.
• Citizens may not murder their enemies.
• Whenever two trains meet at an intersection of said tracks, neither shall proceed until the other has.
• As people used to smuggle it in from Illinois, all yellow butter substitute is banned.
• It is illegal to wake a fireman when he is asleep.
• It is illegal to play checkers in public.
• You cannot "worry a squirrel."
• It is against the law to play a flute and drums on the streets to attract attention.
• If one is thought of as offensive looking, it is illegal for him to be in public during the day.
This is a message the players should get. My first reaction to UM’s predicament was to give up on the team this year. When you are expected to lose both of the next 2 games by significant margins, it’s easy to get discouraged. But then I wondered, what’s the chance that UM could still get to a bowl game this year and end up with a decent record. Given turnovers, missed extra points, injuries, illnesses, unexplained fluctuations in motivation, etc.—how likely is it that UM could steal one of the games Just think: Purdue beat OSU. Navy beat ND. NW beat Iowa…Washington(?state) beat USC….I could go on. The point is that there’s a lot that can happen that is not predictable with certainty even if one team is a big favorite. So what’s the chance that UM might finally catch a break after an otherwise heartbreaking season?
I first calculated the predicted point spreads based on UM OSU AND WI’s Sagarin Predictor ratings to get an idea about the possible point spreads in our next 2 games, as calculated below (the sagarin ratings are actually used by vegas to help set the betting lines, and the rating method chosen actually predicts the outcome of games).
I took a random game on the net that had posted both a 12-14 pt spread and odds roughly comparable to spreads I calculated for UM vs WI (-11 ) and OSU (-15).
I found that UM has a 31% chance of getting to a bowl game and the second most likely final record is 7-6.
Conclusion: A nearly 1/3 chance of a bowl is not a reason for hopelessness…in fact, it’s a far better chance than was the team's early season goal of winning the B10.
So, now is not a time for the team to get discouraged..but rather to redouble their efforts… One of their important goals is still in sight.