I'VE HAD JUST ABOUT ENOUGH OF YOU SONNY
Turnover margin is a notoriously jittery stat that does not often repeat year to year. Turnovers are infrequent and hugely impactful, so they tend to wander all over the place without much rhyme or reason, slaying or rescuing seasons. Yes, there are obvious repeatable factors that correlate with good or bad turnover margin on a macro level. Get to the quarterback and he will explode in a confetti of bad decisions; allow the opponent to get to yours and watch the same thing occur.
On a micro level, sometimes you eat the bear… sometimes the bear eats you.
Michigan ate the bear last year, recovering around 75% of available fumbles. I know people want to believe there is a narrative that supports this model of football. When I returned from the Mattison coaching clinic presentation, one of the items I mentioned was that Michigan treats all incompletions as live balls in practice. I didn't think that was much of an explanation but a lot of commenters seized on it.
There does not have to be a reason that events transpire. It's not an Eastern thing. Sometimes you eat the bear. Sometimes the bear eats you.
Michigan ate the bear last year, and how. SBN's Bill Connolly put together a stat called "adjusted turnover margin" that assumes an NCAA-average fumble recovery rate (50.3% for the D) and NCAA-average PBU-to-INT ratio (21.9%), compares it to your actual turnovers gained, and calculates a points per game figure Connolly figures is just the bounce of the ball. Drum roll…
Five Teams Who Benefited Most From Turnovers Luck
1. Michigan (+3.97 points/game)
2. Maryland (+3.97)
3. N.C. State (+3.61)
4. South Carolina (+3.61)
5. Oklahoma State (+3.40)
I am Jack's utter lack of surprise. Michigan's overall fumble recovery rate of 75% was first in the nation by a whopping eight percent! (Maryland was #2 at 67%.) They were three standard deviations above the mean! They were a full standard deviation above the #2 team in the country! This aggression against regression to the mean will not stand!
This is the point where I talk about how lucky Michigan got last year and a lot of people say "nuh-uh." This gets a little frustrating on both ends. I get frustrated that something like that Sugar Bowl doesn't bring the point home; people who disagree with me get frustrated that I'm downplaying Michigan's success or being grim about next year.
They're not entirely wrong. I do think that if you replayed the 2011 season 1,000 times Michigan ends up 11-2 in relatively few of them. They were only sort of close in one of their losses*, won two-and-a-half nailbiters** and acquired 10 more turnovers than Connolly's model expects. Michigan also had the benefit of a soft schedule (no Wisconsin or Penn State) in a down Big Ten and an Ohio State team in shambles after tatgate. It was pretty uninspiring in terms of 11-2 years featuring wins over ND, OSU, and a BCS opponent despite undergoing massive transition costs and operating with a slap-dash, attrition-ravaged roster.
Which is to say: WOOOOOOOOOOO. Yes. Score.
But once we get past the woo and start talking about setting expectations for year two we should not base it off what Michigan did last year but what they should have done, what they lost to graduation and attrition, who they return and add, and who they play. We should start with the premise that Michigan was super lucky last year and probably won't be this year.
This doesn't mean their turnover margin is doomed. It just means their turnover margin is doomed unless Denard Robinson becomes a lot more responsible with the ball. Michigan got away with being –7 in interceptions because of the fumble surplus. That covered up a lot of blemishes last year.
What should we expect Michigan's turnover margin to be next year?
I am arguing it will be worse. I made similar arguments for much of the Rich Rodriguez era when Michigan was hugely negative every year and dammit it never changed.
Experience at quarterback. This is a double whammy to the good for Michigan: they've got a senior starter entering his third year and—even more important—his second year in Al Borges's system. A number of Michigan's turrible interceptions a year ago came paired with hand-wavingly-open receivers Michigan's quarterbacks just missed, like this one Gardner chucked against Purdue:
The ball is in the air here, but it's going to the double-covered Gallon instead of the hand-wavingly open Junior Hemingway. This wasn't pressure—Gardner had all day—it was a huge coverage misread. In year two these things should significantly diminish.
Fitzgerald Toussaint could be Mike Hart-like. IIRC Toussaint has not fumbled as a Michigan ballcarrier. As carries move to him from other sources—largely the fumble-prone Denard—Michigan should reduce the number of fumbles that can go against them. Fumble prevention/extraction is a skill.
The defense should be sack happy. Michigan finished 29th last year without getting great production out of its three-tech or weakside defensive end. Will Heininger had one sack last year; Craig Roh and Jibreel Black combined for 5.5. If the moves of Roh and Black inside upgrade the pass rush at three positions, the blitz-mad Mattison D will be in QBs' faces even more than they were last year.
Complicating factor: Mike Martin only had 3.5 sacks last year but his disruption opened things up for other people.
Protection should be good if the line is healthy. Lewan is an all Big Ten left tackle (at least) and Schofield is a touted recruit with a year of quality playing time under his belt with all the tools to pass protect on the edge. Wicked blind-side hits on Denard should be rare.
Denard is just turnover-prone. This has been a fact by air and ground ever since he hit the field. While he's going to improve with experience, sometimes players never have that light bulb pop on. Toussaint will shift some carries to his five points of contact but Denard will still get a bunch of carries, and he'll cough the ball up some.
Chucking sure interceptions up to Hemingway will result in interceptions because Hemingway is gone. Unless these are going to Gardner.
Hello massive reversion to the mean on fumble recoveries. If Michigan recovers over 70% of available fumbles this year I'll eat a lemon. Probably at the Rose Bowl.
If a tackle goes down, yeesh. Everyone's assumption is that this would see Kyle Kalis step in at right tackle. Mega-hyped recruit… and a true freshman.
Seriously, Denard is walking variance. I think Michigan will preserve its fairly positive TO margin. If they don't, we will all be sad about Denard's inability to shake the turnover bug. I can't predict he'll be better or worse until we see him play.
There's a reason a couple departing seniors picked Robinson—who was an All-American as a sophomore, remember—as a "breakout player" in that Rothstein article from yesterday($). He could break out. He could run in place, and not know which it will be makes predictions here even more useless than they have been in the past.
You may now return to thinking about Taylor Lewan on a tandem bike.
*[Even if Michigan does score against Iowa they have to get a two-point conversion and then win in OT, which is like a 20% shot.]
**[OSU should not have been since there was no reason to overturn the Toussaint TD that would have ended it.]
Cannibalism is actually an improvement in their level of civilization. Add Eddie George to the long list of current and former Buckeyes bombing the program:
“It appears to me that Bollman is out there, he’s totally exposed,” George said. “It’s his offense to lose, and clearly he has no idea or concept what to do with them at this point.”
Blue Seoul described the MSU-OSU game as "fun to watch if you don't like either of these teams" and that is so true. It's more true for Ohio State, which was blithely running second and long draw plays as Michigan State run blitzed with nine guys in the box. "OY OY OY this worked with Troy Smith OY," Bollman thinks.
Crack journalism. Well done, Free Press, well done:
Michigan does not have a women's hockey program.
Time lapse. The Notre Dame game in time lapse photography:
The numbers. It's week six. FO's advanced stats maintain some preseason projections in them for another week or two, but they are increasingly based on events on the field and whoah:
Moving up four slots after bombing Minnesota probably means the formula does not yet comprehend how terrible the Gophers are—they did hang tight against USC and FEI ignores games against I-AA foes. Also it does not know just how goofy that ND game is.
Still, how are you doing, Stanford? U MAD?
Block MST3K. So this happened at the Hoover Street Rag:
In the not too distant future, Saturday A.D.
There was a guy named Jordan, not too different from you or me
He worked at Schembechler Institute, just another face in a maize jumpsuit
He did a good job cleaning up the place, but his bosses kinda liked him so they made him play in space
(Curse you GERG!)
We'll send him speedy runners, the best we can find
He'll have to stop, tackle them all as we monitor his mind
Now keep in mind he can't control when the games begin or end
He'll try to keep his sanity with the help of his D-Line friends...
D-LINE ROLL CALL!
Martin! (I'm Captain!)
Heininger! (Left side!)
Van Bergen! (Where've you been?)
Rooooooooooooooooh! (I'm sophomore!)
If you're wondering how he eats and breathes and other science facts
He's got a meal card and it's set on earth so you can really just relax
For Michigan Defense Theater 3000.
Either you have no idea what that is about or you are no longer reading this post.
Woolfolk comes in. I erroneously left Woolfolk out of the Monday game post talking about the guys who stayed through all this drama, as Rodriguez might say, but in the Michigan blogosphere there is always someone to pick up where you fell short:
And one wonders; why have the Wolverines normally injury prone players been relatively healthy this year while Woolfolk has been injured time and again? Bad Luck? Anger an old gypsy woman? Did the coaches use black magic to keep the guys healthy but the turnover was Woolfolk gets hurt instead? Did they find some D&D style Rings of Transference to transfer all injuries to Troy as long as everyone was wearing the rings? Not that I've ever played Dungeons and Dragons or anything. Like I don't have a level 17 Wizard named Tulmo Falconclaw just sitting around, so don't think that. I'm just guessing what nerds would say. FIREBALL!!
It gets even saner from there.
Etc.: Highlights from hockey's season opener. I was not aware that Michigan's first goal was not a lucky bounce but rather a beauty assist from Hyman. Also Hunwick flashes the glove. WAC "instant" replay takes 22 minutes. Cue Special K homer drooling.
via flickr user larrysphatpage
Almost nothing drives me more insane than someone who proclaims certain numbers to be bad because these other numbers are better without suggesting a mechanism that would make this true. Via Slate, Murray Chass provides the canonical example:
The stats freaks who never saw a decimal point they didn't worship were ecstatic last year when Zack Greinke won the American League Cy Young award while winning only 16 games. Felix Hernandez, who won 19 and whose 2.49 earned run average was second to Greinke's 2.16, would have been my choice, but the stats guys "proved" that Greinke was the correct choice because of his statistical standing in formulaic concoctions in which we mere mortals do not imbibe.
—Murray Chass, murraychass.com, May 9, 2010.
This makes me clench and unclench my fists helplessly. It seems impossible that you could be this venerated New York Times baseball writer without picking up on the fact that AL pitchers have no control over how many runs their team scores. The fists clench and unclench because attempting to model an argument with Murray Chass about this quickly leads into a cul-de-sac where Chass says something condescending about something he doesn't understand and repeats it ad nauseum as if he believes "no blood for oil" or "drill, baby, drill" is a coherent, self-contained, impregnable point of view.
Presenting Jonah Lehrer, who actually manages to write for Wired despite being able to compose the following:
Consider the case of J.J. Barea. During the regular season, the backup point guard had perfectly ordinary statistics, averaging 9.5 ppg and shooting 44 percent from the field. His plus/minus rating was slightly negative. There was no reason to expect big things from such a little player in the playoffs.
And yet, by Game 4 of the NBA Finals, Barea was in the starting lineup. (This promotion came despite the fact that he began the Finals with a 5-for-23 shooting slump and a minus-14 rating.) What Dallas coach Rick Carlisle wisely realized is that Barea possessed something that couldn't be captured in a scorecard, that his speed and energy were virtues even when he missed his layups (and he missed a lot of layups), and that when he made those driving floaters their value exceeded the point score. Because nothing messes with your head like seeing a guy that short score in the lane. Although Barea's statistics still look pretty ordinary — his scoring average fell in the Finals despite the fact that he started — the Mavs have declared that re-signing him is a priority. Because it doesn't matter what the numbers say. Barea won games.
A man who writes for Wired ascribes JJ Barea's value to "nothing messes with your head like seeing a guy that short score in the lane." Fists clenching and unclenching due to impossibility of refuting argument that stupid. Plenty of other people have tried to do so. Some guy at Deadspin who pointed out that the Mavs are amongst the most stat-obsessed teams in the league. A Baseball Prospectus guy tore apart Lehrer's introductory car analogy, in which car buyers who focus on a couple of barely relevant but easily understandable numbers instead of the important, hard-to-quantity data are Bill James, not Joe Morgan.
It doesn't matter, though. These articles always have a tautologically number-negating logic. The argument goes:
- I don't understand statistics*.
- People who understand statistics don't understand intangibles.
- Therefore my understanding is superior.
Now let's talk about Denard Robinson and last year's offense.
*[This lack of understanding can be many things but is always at least this: statistics are a suggestive tool, not math gospel. To be fair, some people use statistics like they are a golden hammer. These people are very annoying and should be yelled at. Just don't throw the baby out with the bathwater. ]
Y WE NO SCORE GOALPOINTS
This came up a lot in the aftermath of the Spring Game, when the quarterbacks strove to make themselves indistinguishable from walk-ons and quite a lot of people put finger under collar and went "uggggghhh." This was met with a round of backlash largely consisting of people pointing at select—sometimes hilariously select—statistics from last year's team in an effort to prove the offense wasn't really that good.
The favorite was a focus on the first halves against good opponents, when Michigan did not score points. This did not escape notice even around here:
The Ohio State game has the power to make whatever happens in it seem like Michigan's season in microcosm, and so the overriding theme of the 2010 season is looking up at the scoreboard at halftime to see Michigan on pace for about 500 yards and about twenty points. Michigan had 238 yards and seven points this time around and instead of a competitive game we got the usual.
Michigan was frustratingly spectacular at getting to the half with almost 300 yards and something like ten points on the board. But using points to evaluate the output of an offense is like using wins to evaluate a pitcher. Events outside the entity you are trying to evaluate have so much impact on that number, it is only a fuzzy explanation of the story.
I have engaged in message board fights and observed many more about whether the Wisconsin game was a failure on the offense's part. At the half the score was 28-0 Wisconsin and the game was as good as over, whereupon Michigan came out of the locker room and scored three straight touchdowns against the UW defense. This would have made the game interesting if Michigan could have forced the Badgers to pass, ever.
My fists do the clenching bit whenever anyone tries to claim the Wisconsin game was evidence Michigan should move away from the spread. The Michigan offense's entire first half:
Michigan drives from their own one yard line to
the Wisconsintheir 35 before punting.
- Michigan drives from their 28 to the Wisconsin 13; Seth Broekhuizen misses a 30-yard field goal.
- Three and out from the 36.
- Three and out from the 40.
(There was also a meaningless two play drive at the end of the half.) That's not a great four drives. It is a great seven drives if you consider the next three. Meanwhile, the final touchdown against UW is often dismissed as "garbage time" but Badger tacklers on that drive include JJ Watt, Patrick Butrym, and Aaron Henry—all starters—and Michigan hit Roundtree three times for more than 20 yards on a three-minute march. That was not Wisconsin's goal. Even if you still dismiss Michigan's last couple drives as garbage you have to acknowledge that the defense's inability to make them meaningful robbed the offense of opportunities to impress for real.
But you're sitting there and your fists are clenching and unclenching and everything is black and doom and blacky black doom, so maybe it's hard to tell.
Transistors don't give a damn
This is the disconnect. While what seems like a fairly large subset of the fanbase saw wholesale collapse in the Wisconsin game, computers saw two units failing immensely and an offense that put up 442 yards on a defense that gave up 321 on average, scored 31-ish points (computers will credit the offense with acquiring the field position for the field goal and deduct the miss from the special teams; if they deduct from the garbage TD they will use a lower denominator when trying to figure out expected points) on a defense that gave up 21. Statistically, Michigan's offense was at least a standard deviation above the mean against the Badgers.
While the Wisconsin game is the biggest outlier between the offense's actual and perceived performance, it's instructive. It is often lumped in with the crap from last year along with Iowa (tenuous case indeed there), MSU, OSU, and the bowl game. There is no reasonable case it should be. This is why statistics are useful, because meat-emotions often overwhelm our capacity for reason.
These are the questions I think we should be asking in our most robotic voices:
What aspects of last year's performance project most strongly to next year's?
There are three reasons for the gap between points and yards: field position, field goal kicking, and turnovers. The latter two combined to see Michigan's redzone scoring rate rank 109th nationally. The first two are almost entirely out of the offense's control. The latter was a huge problem all three years under Rodriguez. However, turnovers notoriously do not correlate year to year, are heavily dependent on quarterback, experience and saw Rich Rodriguez consistently in the black at West Virginia.
Michigan's turnover issues aren't fate, should improve naturally, and are not related to the spread. Most of Michigan's other issues at turning yards into points are not really the offense's.
That leaves an inherent flaw in the spread offense as a potential culprit that has the potential to repeat next year. Point in favor: Michigan was even worse in the redzone in 2009, finishing with just 49% of available points. Point against: Auburn and Oregon finished in the top ten last year. Further point against from a Football Outsiders study of the NFL:
We took … 20 overachievers and measured their performances the season after said overachievement; while their DVOA [ed: something value over average, a fancy stat they have designed to smooth out noise.] in the red zone that initial season exceeded their total offensive DVOA by an average of 33.3 percent, in the following season, their DVOA in the red zone exceeded their total DVOA by an average of 1.3 percent. In other words, the teams' performances in the red zone mirrored how they did outside it, implying the overachieving was a fluke.
We also can measure this by using correlation coefficients, a way of measuring the relationship between two variables that results in a number ranging from minus-1 (at which the two variables have an exact inverse relationship) to plus-1 (at which the variables have a perfectly positive relationship). The correlation between a team's performance in the red zone and its overall offensive performance, year to year, is 0.08 -- essentially nil. Teams simply do not exceed their performance in the first 80 yards once they get to the final 20 on a regular basis.
The evidence suggests Michigan's red zone struggles should revert to the mean; the things that made the offense less than the sum of its yards last year are all small sample size outliers.
What's left that does correlate, or at least correlates better? Everything else. On a play by play basis Michigan's offense does well in standard and advanced metrics, and returns ten starters. If they should be better but weren't (because of things that should revert) and can expect similar performance next year (because of all the returning starters), then what should happen is that the expected and actual meet somewhere south of #2 nationally but well within the schwing range.
Is it better to play to Al Borges's strengths or the offense's strengths?
In 2008 this was easy since the offense had no strengths. In 2011 it's a difficult question. Michigan's transition demands that Borges or Denard (and, importantly, the OL) leaves his comfort zone. This is necessarily going to be suboptimal for someone.
The spring game suggests it will be vastly suboptimal for Denard if Borges gets his way, and it seems a lot easier to change playcalls than turn Denard into Jon Navarre. Unfortunately, it's not that easy. The last few years I've documented the ever-evolving Michigan run offense. Rich Rodriguez kept ahead of the curve by constantly adding new wrinkles to the ground game. He was able to do this because of his vast experience with the spread 'n' shred. Al Borges is a smart guy with a lot of experience but his history suggests his inventiveness may be more oriented towards the passing game. If a good chunk of offensive effectiveness is staying ahead of the game, Borges might be able to do that better from a pro-style offense.
But the following is true even in the NFL:
Shotgun formations are generally more efficient than formations with the quarterback under center.
Over the past three seasons, offenses have averaged 5.9 yards per play from Shotgun, but just 5.1 yards per play with the quarterback under center. This wide split exists even if you analyze the data to try to weed out biases like teams using Shotgun more often on third-and-long, or against prevent defenses in the fourth quarter. Shotgun offense is more efficient if you only look at the first half, on every down, and even if you only look at running back carries rather than passes and scrambles.
With an offense outright designed for the shotgun featuring a quarterback whose main asset is his legs, the cutting-edge effect would have to be absurdly important to make the offense more effective from under center.
Does I-form pro-style help you win in ways undefined by conventional statistics?
This is Brady Hoke's theory when he denigrates the zone-heavy spread offense as an impediment to having a good defense. A quick glance at the top defenses in both conventional and fancy measures suggests this is unlikely. TCU, Boise State, and West Virginia were the top three teams in yardage defense. WVU, Missouri, Oklahoma, Auburn, Oregon, and Mississippi State are all in the top ten in defensive FEI. There appears to be little if any problem with having a top defense opposite your spread 'n' shred offense as long as you account for the increased pace of the spread.
Is it worth sacrificing effectiveness down the road for immediate results?
Unknowable, but there's no better way to quickly put the question marks on Brady Hoke's resume to rest than by having a breakout first season.
Extensive Conclusion Section
MOAR SHOTGUN PLZ
Paws for a cause. If you've got a desire to have Michigan football players wait on you, you are in luck:
"Celebrity waiters" is a new phrase to me. Proceeds go to the local Humane Society; tickets can be purchased here. Order the coconut so your waiter can rip it open with his bare hands. This is not an opportunity that often comes.
I told you so. If the equation "Jersey Shore == Bronzed Juggalos" holds true, last fall's assertion is now approved by the Michigan State athletic director himself:
Mike "the Situation" Sorrentino of Jersey Shore is going to be a #Spartan fan this season. Catch him at a game in Spartan Stadium.
Dave Brandon didn't do anything today, but point Dave Brandon. The Only Colors is at a loss for words but not gifs.
Peering into your basket-soul. Basketball recruiting suddenly turned into hockey recruiting, where it's all like "this kid isn't coming forever but he seems pretty good." It's a risk, but one you might feel like you have to take these days. /yells at cloud
But UMHoops points out Beilein's track record with early commits is stellar:
Glenn Robinson III was considered a second-tier prospect in the state of Indiana but impressed Beilein at Elite Camp and picked up a scholarship offer, since then he’s exploded into to a top-75 player. Tim Hardaway Jr. impressed at Elite Camp and committed shortly after, two years later he was one of the top freshmen in the Big Ten. Now that’s not to say that Beilein uses the six hours at his camp as the only evaluation tool, he’s been down to watch Hatch and Donnal play with their high school squads on many occasions over the last year.
That does not use all the available evidence: Beilein picked up Evan Smotrycz before he rose in the rankings; Jordan Morgan was a recruit so questionable even his dad was like "really?"; Trey Burke fell at AAU-only Rivals but rose elsewhere after a stellar senior year saw him named Ohio Mr. Basketball. Also, Pittsnogle and Gansey and etc. Beilein's got an eye. In this regard he is the anti-Amaker.
Michigan is after a point guard in the 2013 class and appears to be operating under the assumption they have a fourth scholarship available in either 2012 or 2013 that will probably go to a shooting guard or face-up four.
Haters going to notice your blatant contradiction. Excellent catch by Oversigning.com. Here's Nick Saban discussing the SEC's meaningful but not perfect new legislation on kicking kids the the curb. Before passage:
"In my opinion, it would really affect the quality in our league," Saban said. "You can't know the attrition from signing day until August, which guys who're going to be fifth-year seniors that decide they don't want to come back and play football. Well, you can't count those guys. You're going to have to tell those guys they're going to have to decide in January.
"I don't really feel that it's going to create any management issues that's going to affect the quality of play," Saban calmly said Thursday before his annual charity golf tournament that benefits his "Nick's Kids" program. "I think it's all good."
Oversigning.com describes this as "craw-fishing," which is inexplicable to me but yeah: that dude is totally craw-fishing. What a jerk.
They eat the pig. You know who else needs to feel the pimp hand of the NCAA? North Carolina. Their car business is now just as transparently illicit as Ohio State's:
It appears that one UNC football player accrued 93 parking tickets under nine license plate numbers between October 2007 and August 2009, according to parking records UNC released Thursday and a database search of the University’s Department of Public Safety website. …
The plates in question corresponded to cars including a gray Dodge, a gray Nissan, a black Acura, a black Honda and a green BMW, according to the records.
Greg Little had nine license plates in 22 months. The student newspaper discovered this by searching a public database after UNC was finally sued into releasing records requested under the FOIA act. There is obviously some combination of car trouble, generous grandmothers from poor sections of Durham, footloose and fancy-free car swapping on the whims of a young man feeling the wind in his hair, and OBVIOUS EXTRA BENEFITS UNC WAS BEING SLAPPED IN THE FACE WITH EVERY TIME HE GOT A PARKING TICKET, WHICH WAS APPARENTLY ON A DAILY BASIS that explains how this may have occurred.
Meanwhile, phone records show John Blake was talking to Marvin Austin and Gary Wichard when they were on one of their non-kosher trips. They're going to get hammered, too.
(HT: Doctor Saturday.)
What is luck? Baby don't hurt me, no more. A follow-up to the Pythagorean post from this morning: was Michigan State actually lucky last year? If you listen to Pythagorean expectations, they were. They were the luckiest dang team in the study period, exceeding expectations by a whopping 2.4 wins.
If you're using a more conventional measure of record in close games, they weren't even close to the luckiest team. By my count there were three: wins over ND (34-31, OT), Northwestern (35-27 with a cosmetic touchdown for MSU at the very end), and Purdue (35-31). A six point win over Penn State does not count since PSU scored a touchdown with under a minute left to make the final score more attractive; MSU was a long way from losing that.
3-0 in close games is a bit lucky but nothing out of the ordinary for any team that finishes 11-2. While you would expect any team with 11 wins to regress the next season, there's nothing there that suggests MSU should be unusually likely to drop back to .500 or thereabouts.
The Pythagorean method is blown away by MSU's two losses, utter hammerings at the hands of Iowa and Alabama. I'm not convinced those are as meaningful as the formula would have it.
Etc.: Nobody closes the barn door like the Ohio State Buckeyes. Yost renovations are go. Renaldo Sagesse making his way in the CFL. NCAA poking around agent-type dudes in South Florida, investigating a selection of SEC schools and Ohio State. Doctor Saturday renews call for "East" and "West" division names, which is endorsed by this space. Holdin' the Rope fires up the nostalgia machine and takes us back to the 2010 Indiana game. Remember when Ohio State had a football program? Weird!
I like me some stats, boy howdy, but there's a few things I'm not sure about. One is applying Pythagorean wins to football. For those of you who don't know the name of Data's brother, some smart baseball types realized that baseball teams pretty much try to score runs all the time. This means you can predict future performance better with run differential than record.
It works in basketball, too, because basketball teams pretty much try to score baskets all the time. A team leading may try to suck a possession or two out of the game by stalling late, but that effect is extremely minor. It works in hockey because hockey teams pretty much try to score goals all the time. A team leading late will take fewer risks but that effect is minor, too. Futz with the exponents and it's cool.
You can do this for football as well, but Lloyd/Tresselball observers can tell you that football teams do not try to score points all the time. This is because football has more state—primarily the line of scrimmage—than the other sports, and that state is simultaneously applicable to offense and defense. There is never any reason to not score in baseball or basketball. In football trying to score is riskier than running three isos up the middle and punting in a way that missing a jumper is not. Because of this, lots of personnel turnover, and wildly varying schedules, I don't think raw Pythagorean wins is a particularly useful predictive device. It does correlate some. I just don't like it. I acknowledge this is a Murray Chass sort of criticism.
I bring it up because BHGP has a long post featuring Pythagorean wins that eventually kind of discards the concept by way of praising Northwestern for consistently exceeding expectations. There's a table I'll post a bit later showing eight years of Big Ten performance versus expectations followed up by this:
The fact that most teams have such consistent "luck," when coupled with the fact that close wins and losses appear to be the strongest factor in where a team appears on the list, means this list may not be a measure of "luck," per se, but rather the simple ability to win close games. Since such ability is presumably based in large part on things like on-field experience, efficient playcalling, and clock management, the list could be considered a measure of a coach's in-game ability. Is it any wonder that the conference's biggest late-game buffoon and a geriatric who doesn't even wear a headset sit at the bottom of the list? …
It's also a credit to Pat Fitzgerald and the late Randy Walker at Northwestern. Even in its worst years, jNWU has outperformed its pythagorean expectations. In every year included in this study, Northwestern had a positive overall pythagorean margin, and in all but one the LOLcats had a positive margin in conference play.
There is an objection to this based on stock-picking monkeys.
Seriously. In 1999, a six-year-old female monkey named Raven threw darts at a selection of tech stocks that subsequently returned 213 percent. This was a bubble environment but even in that context her performance was impressive—22nd amongst thousands of funds. If you had 64 monkeys do that every year half of them would be discovered to be frauds by not beating the market, but you would expect at the end of that eight year period there would be one very lucky monkey who beat the market for eight consecutive years.
Any normally distributed set of data is going to have a lucky monkey and Ron Zook. I present a lucky monkey and Ron Zook:
Wins – Pythagorean expectation, 2002-2010
|Rank||Team||Ov +/-||Conf +/-|
Except… that is not a normally distributed lucky monkey. In conference (which is a more interesting number to me because nonconference schedules are so unbalanced), Northwestern accounts for nearly 70% of the deviation from perfectly Pythagorean records by itself. Lloydball advocates Michigan, OSU, and Wisconsin follow in order, and BHGP points out that Michigan State would be the second luckiest monkey if only the Dantonio era—more MANBALL—was considered. There seems to be something non-monkey there.
But I'm uncertain if that's good or bad if you're a fan. Does this mean manball is good at closing out games, as BHGP suggests the chart shows? It's a possibility. The other possibility (24-21 vs SDSU, 10-7 vs Utah, falling behind by 14 in the Orange Bowl before suddenly remembering David Terrell exists, etc.) is that Lloydball-type play shuts off the offense once it gets a narrow lead or until it falls behind significantly, thus leading to a lot of tight games generally slanted towards wins.
The most haunting stat from the Carr era is this: Carr was actually more likely to win a game if he entered the fourth quarter with a narrow deficit than a narrow lead. Since the point of football is to win more games, period, not more games than you were expected to based on the final score, the excellence of your coaching is bound up with your record. Exceeding expectations as Ohio State means your manball is working (until you get into a championship game). Doing so as Michigan, but never beating Ohio State, means something different.
There's too much weird stuff tied up in scoring points in football to draw many conclusions from a look at just margins. Primarily this comes down to wanting to score, which is a complicated decision based largely on your faith in the defense. This is hard when your defense is good-ish (Michigan) but not when it's terrible (Northwestern) or awesome (Ohio State). OSU and Northwestern rarely make the wrong decisions because theirs are obvious. Michigan (and Iowa, and Penn State) fans are haunted by the the decisions that turned out wrong.
BONUS GUESS ON NORTHWESTERN: Why would the Wildcats consistently exceed expectations? Guess: they feature in games with lots of points. Their spread has been as consistently effective as their secondary has been flailing, so a lot of Northwestern games feature large scores. If NW is consistently winning 42-35 that will look different to the formula than OSU grinding out 17-10 wins.
BONUS LOCALLY RELEVANT SECTION: FWIW, only one Michigan team shows up at the margins. If you think about it you'll probably figure it out:
Of course, using the full schedule allows for statistical variance based on strength of non-conference scheduling. If we look solely at Big Ten play, as close to a level playing field as we can get, Sparty still wins. It's just not 2010 Sparty:
Rank Team Py +/- 1 2008 Michigan State +2.16 2 2004 Northwestern +1.77 3 2010 Michigan State +1.69 4 2004 Michigan +1.63 5 2009 Northwestern +1.53
That 2008 Spartan squad went 9-4 (6-2) despite a total margin of victory of +28 and an in-conference margin of -7. In fact, 2008 Michigan State was one of just five teams since 2002 to post a winning record in the Big Ten despite being outscored in conference play.
The 2004 team that went to the Rose Bowl despite deploying a freshman quarterback thanks to things like nailcoeds.exe outperformed Pythagorean expectation significantly. You might be all like "a HA!" because the next year Michigan slumped to 7-5 in 2005, but they went 11-2 the year after that—there's just so much noise.
Piling on. It's bad when Adult Swim is on your case:
Different kinds of one thing. Braves & Birds makes a good point about oversigning:
The teams that have the greatest incentive to oversign are the middle class or lower class programs that struggle to recruit top players and therefore have to make up with quantity what they cannot acquire in quality. Thus, we would expect that the most successful teams in the conference would not oversign because they don’t have to do so. Therefore, looking at results and recruiting quantities is a fool’s errand because Pennington is not normalizing for program status. In other words, if Florida signs 85 players over a four-year period and Ole Miss signs 105, we wouldn’t expect Ole Miss to have a better record because the extra players will not trump all of the other advantages that Florida has over Ole Miss.
There are two kinds. The first kind (as practiced by Houston Nutt): "maybe if I sign everyone who can play football enough of them will be eligible for me to keep my job." The second: <imperial march> SABAN </imperial march>.
Here's a graph from Brian Fremeau that gives you an indication of just how few kids enroll at Ole Miss relative to the rest of the nation's top 25 recruiters:
Nutt is way down at the bottom with VT, who no one ever talks about; South Carolina, USC(?), and Auburn a bit higher up, then a big band of average followed by places that do not bother with academic issues either because they are morally opposed to skeeze (no one) or don't have to bother (everyone). You'll note LSU and Florida amongst this group. Teams towards the bottom can plausibly argue that their oversigning is less harmful because it consists of signing guys who aren't going to be eligible instead of shoving kids in good standing out the door.
Meanwhile, an SEC partisan is fussin' about Big Ten fans complaining about the competitive advantage provided by oversigning:
Is there some advantage? Sure. SEC teams from 2002 through 2010 averaged 3.42 signees per victory. Big Ten teams average 3.11 signees over the same period. Hardly the night and day difference one would expect.
But while oversigning isn’t the magic bullet Big Ten fans would want you to believe, things like local talent base, tradition and spending serve as tried and true differentiators.
We at MrSEC.com aren’t fans of oversigning. As noted above, we would have no problem if every school went to a hard cap at 25.
But the argument that oversigning is the difference between the SEC and the Big Ten? Well, that doesn’t hold water. And as you can see above, that argument doesn’t even hold water when you make comparisons within the same conference.
Ole Miss throws that entirely out of whack, as do a number of mid-level strivers that are rooting through any large-ish kid in the south to see if any of them can play football.
Meanwhile, I haven't seen many (or any) Big Ten fans say it is the difference between the SEC and the Big Ten. This whole thing is a red herring, anyway: the institutions most publicly against oversigning are Georgia and Florida. Ability to identify skeeze does not stop at the Mason-Dixon line.
It's an obvious advantage that's built on perverse incentives, which is reason enough to get rid of it, differences between conferences be damned. For an SEC fan to rabble rabble about how it's not that big of an advantage on the field misses the point in stereotype-fulfilling fashion.
Terrelle Pryor's lawyer. Is Jackie Chiles:
"It was probably good for Terrelle to meet persons like myself, African-American lawyers, very successful -- quote, unquote," James said. …
"Irrespective of how harsh and idiotic we think some of the NCAA rules are, they are still on the books," James said. "They had slavery for all those years. Those rules are still on the books, and the courts uphold them."
James then ranted about the NCAA and its enforcement process.
"You've got a captured system here in college football. It's mandated, dictated, the student-athletes have no rights. They have no relief."
That is all.
That is not all. Bombs continue to drop on Pryor from all angles. Random NFL GM:
“We spent a lot of time this year going through Cam Newton(notes) and Ryan Mallett’s(notes) personality,” an NFC general manager said. “I haven’t done all my homework on Pryor yet, but my initial impression is that if you line all three of them up and just talked about trust and reliability, Pryor is dead last. Like not-even-out-of-the-starting-gate last.
“And it’s probably only going to get worse.”
Some guy in an otherwise pretty kind Dispatch story:
"People are terrified," Davis said. "They want to really examine the kid as a person, because the stories you hear on the grapevine are not stories that excite you - stories about his leadership, how his teammates respond to him, how he was handled at Ohio State."
And Thayer Evans wrote a story I linked in the sidebar that says an 18 year old male enjoyed having girls send sexy photos to him. I've been on the Terrelle Pryor-emotional-problems bandwagon so long I remember when it was just me and some nuts from Penn State message boards and even I think Evans went a bit too far:
Pryor’s focus consistently led back to one thing: himself.
And while some may foolishly believe Pryor’s statement Tuesday that his decision to forgo his senior year at scandal-ridden Ohio State was out of “the best interests of my teammates,” the truth is that he did it out of selfishness. He did it only to escape being investigated by the NCAA and to try to salvage what’s left of his bleak future.
Well… yeah… but you write for, like, organizations, man.
(Also, Dispatch lol:
The best part about this is the cooler poopers are doing it to themselves.)
Do not read if you are only going to make a tedious argument that shows you don't understand statistics. Bill Connolly, purveyor of Football Outsiders' other college football ranking system and Football Study Hall author, previews Michigan. There are many numbers and a discussion of just how good Michigan's offense was last year (as per usual, advanced stats == fawning) that people who would like to restrict their sample size to four first-half drives against Wisconsin won't like:
If only Michigan had been able to play defense. Despite a slight fade as the season advanced, the Wolverines' offense was incredibly successful in 2010, posting huge point and yardage totals on a series of stellar defenses. Their Adj. Points tell the tale -- against a strong slate of defenses, the Wolverines produced at an incredibly high level for each of the first nine games of the season before a combination of injuries and fatigue (and, possibly, lack of faith in the defense) set in. Michigan still averaged 28.9 Adj. PPG over their final four games, with only two below-average performances against Purdue and Mississippi State.
I'm not sure where Connolly's getting the idea Michigan blitzed on almost every passing down, however. Even if he has numbers for this I kind of doubt them, since I tracked rushers for the Indiana UFR and came up with a ton of 3 and 4 man rushes. If that's charted I wonder if the 3-3-5 threw someone off.
Anyway, Connolly's takeaway is "I hope they don't turn Denard into Brad Smith that one year they tried to make him a pro-style quarterback": since they don't like Nebraska as much as everyone else and their system looks at recruiting rankings that drastically overrate Michigan (attrition) they're hinting the FO Almanac will have Michigan at or near the top of the division.
WTF? I know we're supposed to be taking the high road and all but seriously, if anyone could be expected to jovially bomb Ohio State in the paper it's Mike Hart. Mike Hart:
"I really think Jim Tressel is a great coach," Hart said. "I hate the school, I hate Ohio, can't stand them, but I think he's a great coach. Whatever happened didn't make him a better coach. The players were doing wrong, and (Tressel) broke the rules, which obviously is wrong, but it's not like he was giving them steroids to give them a competitive advantage."
Guh. Multiple other former players say they "genuinely feel" for the other players caught up in this situation who have nothing to do with it, which seems a little much. We're concerned about Ohio State walk-ons and kickers now?
Etc.: Laurinaitis and the Real Girl. Wetzel hears call to argue why OSU's violations aren't as bad as USC's, argues that OSU's violations are worse than USC's. The Wolverine Blog searches for breakout players.