Last night Team 132 finished one of the more memorable, rewarding, and unexpected seasons in recent memory. Brian and much of the blogsphere have valiantly focused on what this team accomplished, what they overcame, and how well they have represented the university not just this season, but through their entire careers. But there has been consistent talk among some fans and media types about how "Michigan is back".
With the help of my brother I set out to understand if this 11-2 season with a BCS bowl victory matched some vague definition of Michigan past and thus validates the claim of the program being back. I looked at all seasons in the "Bo era" of UM football to see when the team finished the season with a good record and BCS bowl appearance.
But in order to do that, we need a chart.
Chart you say?
Wait - there is an alter ego in this post too?
Yes - So let's see the chart then!
**UPDATE** In the comments user "Vasav" made a suggestion that we could create a metric that took into account beating OSU, winning the conference, and final ranking to get a "score" for that season. I updated the table below with that metric, though I changed his values somewhat.
- Versus MSU: Win = 0.5, Tie = 0.2, Loss = 0.0
- Versus OSU: Win = 1.0, Tie = 0.5, Loss = 0.0
- Big Ten Finish: 1st = 1.0, Tied for 1st = 0.5, Other = 0.0
- Bowl Outcome: Win = 1.0, Loss = 0.0
- Final AP Rank: 1-5 = 1.0, 6-10 = 0.5, Other = 0.0
There are obvious flaws in this such as the difference between being ranked 5 and 6 costing a significant amount toward the final score or the fact that you can't have "ties" for the conference title like you used to before this season. But it is a starting point and helps sort these seasons, so the table has been updated. (Read below for other updates.)
What did we learn from that?
Well, you can find just about anything on the Bentley LIbrary site.
Besides the shameless plug, what else did we learn?
There are several things that were interesting in this research. Here are a few.
- Carr (2-3) and Bo (3-10) did a lot to promote the belief that the Big Ten can't win big games.
- But they also got to these big games at a very high rate with Carr going to 5 BCS games in 13 years and Bo going to 13 in 21 years. This may be where the "Michigan is back" meme comes from since the five year drought we just lived through had only happened one other time in the past 40 years.
Carr, Mo, and Bo all had several historically great seasons with Carr's 1997, Bo's 1985, and Bo's 1988 standing out perhaps as the best.
- **UPDATE** When applying the "Vasav score" you see these seasons change slightly. Obviously 1997 and 1988 still stack up, but 1985 is lower on the list than 1980 and 1992.
- Damn.....Bo was a great coach. Over time I had sort of felt like his memory was greater than his actual resume, but you can't help being amazed at his tenure. The Rose Bowls, top ten rankings, and conference titles are more than impressive.
- What was it like to be a die-hard fan from 1970 to 1974? In five seasons Bo went 50-4-1, won or tied for the conference title 4 times, finished in the top ten each season and only went to ONE bowl game. Imagine the server damage that would have been done if MGoBlog existed then.
- **UPDATE** Look at how 2006 scores out despite being perhaps Carr's second best team. I think this is a good test of the Vasav score because that great season left such a bitter taste in our mouths for having lost to OSU and then USC when we were perhaps so close to a championship.
Well, those are some nice bullets, but does that mean the people saying "Michigan's Back!" are right?
Can't we just focus on this great season and the heart shown by the members of the team who have put everything they had into this program despite the chaos over the past several years?
No - I need an answer. Is Michigan back? Does this season stack up against the rest?
The answer is "not quite". Finishing with an 11-2 record and BCS win (regardless of how ugly) is amazing and stacks up with some of the best seasons ever. Considering the past 4 years that is a great accomplishment and shows that the program is on the right track and about as "back" as could be dreamed of before this season started.
But there are a couple of things that put it a notch below most of the seasons on the list. First is the fact that Michigan finished as the third best team in the conference behind MSU and Wisconsin, despite the deserved BCS appearance. Classic Michigan teams expected to win the conference and did more often than not. That's the goal and motivation for next year. Another difference is that Michigan will likely finish ranked outside the top ten this year while all but two of the teams on the list finished with a better final ranking.
Hoke has exceeded expectations and has Michigan poised to compete for BCS bowls going forward, even if this season is a slight notch below the great ones of the past 40 years. Bring on Alabama and 2012! Go Blue!
**UPDATE** Response to comments
It is always dangerous to respond to comments, so I'll keep this brief. Obviously I, and most readers of this site, agree with Brady Hoke when he says that Michigan isn't "back" because it never went anywhere. No matter what the record on the field, the men wearing the winged helmets have represented the university with integrity and worked their tails off both on and off the field. The "Michigan is back" meme is used in this post as a backdrop to putting the 2011 season in historical context. Anyone reading this blog has lived and died emotionally with this team no matter their record or coach and can attest to Michigan not needing to be "back."
Likewise, there is no arguing that 2011 was a spectacular season by any measure or metric. The fact that we are even comparing it to the other 24 on this list states that. But this post was a way to both celebrate the past, celebrate 2011, and look forward to areas where we can still improve.
Finally, I intentionally avoided any discussion of late-era Carr or Rodriguez because that isn't relevant. Whatever ill-will or praise you have for either coach does not factor into the on-field significance of their past seasons so I hope we can avoid turning another series of comments into an argument about either coach.
Much as I respect both Brian and Seth, I don't think that it's obvious that Coales overtime TD catch, which was overturned on review, was incomplete. I'm not going to say that the review ref was wrong, but this was a tough call that could have gone either way, both on the initial call and on review. I'll start with Brian:
It's incomplete because the tip of the ball hits the ground and it shifts in his arms when it happens.
I'm not sure that's what the rules call for as part of "control". If it is it would lead to some absurd results in other situations. For instance: imagine a tackler punching at a ball while making a tackle. The ball's position shifts, but remains in the ballcarrier's hands. Would that be a fumble? The fact that the ball shifts position, by itself, doesn't necessarily mean that it isn't still under the receiver's control. Firm control doesn't mean absolute control.
The ball has the potential to slide through his upper arms when it impacts the ground...
Except it doesn't. The ref isn't there to speculate about what might happen, here's there to judge what does happen. And what happened was the ball remained in the reciever's arms and/or hands the whole time. Coales still had the ball in his hands after he hit the ground and rolled onto his back. You can argue about how tight his grip was, but nobody else touched it and it didn't roll away after Coales hit the turf.
...ground aids catch; not a catch.
I don't know how you can say the ground aided the catch. Normally if you're juggling something and then hit the ground, the ground jars the object loose. That clearly didn't happen here.
Meanwhile Seth asks about whether the replay official should have overturned the original call. He says no:
But it's too close to call/not enough evidence to overturn! If someone is saying this to you they are confusing a Law & Order episode for reality. They have conceded that "incomplete" is the correct call, and are essentially complaining that it should have been ruled incorrectly because of a technicality in the literal meaning of the review rule.
Seth confuses substantive rules with procedural rules here, and forgets that, when you're dealing with video replay, there's a procedure that's supposed to be followed. To put it another way, this kinda is "Law and Order". In real life, lawyers argue about procedure all the time.
The replay official is not there to substitute his judgement for the that of the field official on close calls, he is there to correct obviously incorrect calls -- that's what "indisputable video evidence" means. True, at this point the gripe is more about procedure than substance, but procedure matters too. The standard for a review official is high for a reason -- we don't want every tricky judgement call reviewed and overturned or we'd never finish the game. If the replay official didn't have "indisputable evidence" then he shouldn't have overruled the field official, even if he believed the pass was probably incomplete.
Okay, having said all that -- it was a helluva a game and I'm very proud of this team and the way they played. And even if Coale's catch had stood up, we would have won anyway. That's just how Team 132 was.
If you go to the CBS Sportsline college football page, you will see that they have a poll about halfway down the page. The question is "Did Michigan's Win Prove It Belonged in a BCS Bowl?" Currently, 68% of their sage viewers voted NO !
Does this mean there was some bot sabotage, or merely that 30,000 monkeys all figured out how to log onto the internet at the same time, or what?
Seems implausible to me that after actually winning a BCS game, 68% of people voting would think that we don't even belong in a BCS game. Is there mischief afoot, or just a whole lot of haters?
(It is more likely that 30,000 monkeys can use the internet than 30,000 Sparties IMHO)
Per Allen Trieu
Arnett made his choice after visiting East Lansing today and meeting with Mark Dantonio