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Taco-ranked starters are far more likely than Glasgows [Fuller]
Every year, as college football recruiting becomes the only football thing left to pay attention to until spring, we are suddenly struck by an army of pundits so arrogantly attached to their "recruiting stars don't matter" narratives that they don't bother to care that math is against them.
Michigan typically gets taken to the woodshed in these articles for recurrently not matching recruiting expectations with on-field results. This discrepancy does exist beyond the normal J.T. Turners that everybody gets, and for various interrelated reasons: attrition spikes, spottily shoddy coaching, program instability, recruiting shortfalls. Anecdotally, there are examples I can point to, especially in the early aughts, when an otherwise two-star athlete was bumped to a three-star because Michigan offered. That explains less about how Wisconsin and Michigan State thrive on 2- and 3-stars, and more about how Michigan has recruited very few guys under a consensus 3-star.
However every time we find a new way to compare recruiting data to performance data, we consistently discover that recruiting stars handed out by the services correlate to better players. No, a 5-star isn't an instant superstar, but the 25-30 five-stars each season are consistently found to be about twice as likely to meet some performance metric (NFL draft, All-conference, team success, etc.) as the pool of 200-odd four-stars, who are consistently more likely to meet performance thresholds of the 400-odd three-stars, etc.
Today I present a new metric for proving it: starts.
|Example of raw data, via UM Bentley Library.|
ALL the Starts
My project over Christmas was to take the data from Bentley's team pages (example at right), scrub the hell out of it, and produce a database of who started what years, at what positions, at what age, with what recruiting hype, etc.
A few weeks back I released the initial results of my starts data. We noticed there were a lot of problems in that. I went back and did a lot of fixing, mostly just finding more weird errors in the Bentley pages I'd culled the data from, sometimes emailing the guys themselves to ask things like "Was there a game in 2001 that either you or B.J. didn't start?"
I think I've got it cleaned up now; at least the total number of starts for each season matches 22 players per game.
Recruiting By Starts
Starting in 1996 we start getting relatively uniform star rankings for recruits, though I had to translate Lemming rankings and such into stars (he had position rankings and national lists that line up with what we call recruits today). So I took the average of available star ratings of all players to appear on Michigan's Bentley rosters from the Class of 1996 through the Class of 2010, and put 'em against the number of starts generated. Guess what: recruiting actually matters.
|2- or 2.5-stars||29||271||9.3|
Even with Michigan's notorious luck, the 5-stars were expected to give you about two seasons of starts, compared to the 8 or 9 games you'll get out of a 2- or 3-star. That is significant, and offers a bit more evidence toward the general statement about recruiting stars: the higher the star rating, the more likely he is to be a good college football player, though at best you're at 50-50.
As for walk-ons, I've linked to the list of the 217 guys in that time period who made the Bentley rosters and weren't special teamers, in case you doubt me. The Order of St. Kovacs have accomplished great things for Michigan, but turning up one of those guys anywhere other than fullback has been rare indeed.
I'm going to try to use the starts data above to get predictive. The scatter plot of the 1996-2010 group was pretty linear so I'm just going to plug in a linear equation:
Expected Starts on Avg M Team = Stars x 5.30 - 6.35
And that gives us a reasonable expectation of Michigan starts to expect from a class based on their rankings:
click big makes
For the Class of 2011-2014 projections, I just guessed by hand, so those projections are going to be increasingly inaccurate once I'm predicting 2017 starters and whatnot.
The chart above has two stories to tell: 1) The strength of a recruiting class is strongly correlated to the value that class will produce in starters, and 2) the damage done by attrition to the 2005 and 2010 classes created ripple effects for several classes afterwards.
An Average Michigan Team:
By some quick averages I was able to get an average makeup of a starting 22. I took the average number of starts by experience (i.e. year in the program) for the classes of 1995-2010, adjusted those numbers for a 13-game schedule, then divided by 13 games to get an idea of what the starters ought to be against years of interest.
|Senior / RS Jr||7||5||4||8||8||6||8||9|
|Junior / RS So||6||10||5||4||7||7||5||6|
|Soph / RS Fr||3||3||6||2||1||2||3||4|
|AVG starter age||3.55||3.27||3.18||3.82||3.50||3.27||3.77||3.50|
By this the last two teams look extraordinarily young—about as young as the 2008 team or younger. The 2012 team by contrast seems like a wasted opportunity. FWIW I counted Devin, not Denard, as the quarterback, or it would have been even older. That fits the narrative: 2012 was a wasted opportunity, as a line with three 5th year seniors (two of whom were long-term productive starters) plus Lewan and Schofield was coached into one of the worst offensive lines in memory.
Meta: Hokepoints is now alternating bi-weekly features. Jimmystats is the one where we play with Excel, H4 is the one where we play with Playmaker or get misty-eyed. Thank you readers who submitted name ideas.
Not all upperclassmen are good, but having upperclassmen is good. [Fuller]
I keep a few different databases on Michigan players for various uses, and Bosch's transfer initiated a two-day time sink into updating the big roster one. It now includes number of starts each guy since the 1993 class had in his career, along with the recruiting profile and career summary. Have at it, diarists:
Some stuff I generated with it:
The Holy Balls 2010 attrition chart:
Bigging it makes it clicker.
The retention rate isn't the number of players who stuck, it's the number of total eligible seasons the class would have produced if every freshman played four (and every junior transfer played two, etc.). If somebody ever says there was nothing good about the Hoke era, point at the 2012-2014 classes. I do expect the transition costs and other levies of time will reduce those triple towers eventually, but that is a very good start, especially the 2012 group who came in after 11-2 and got not that since.
The flipside of course is that 2010 class, which spent exactly half of its eligibility not on Michigan's roster. And that was followed by the 2011 "process" class, which more on that in a minute. I also tracked the reasons for losses:
[Jump for that a bunch more charts and tables you can use to wow your friends, like the average number of starts for a 5-star recruit]
I made a hype video.
How did Michigan get a top five NFL coach to come back to college? There's actually one word for it: passion.
The school is so passionate about football that it was willing to give Harbaugh whatever tools and control he asked for. The big money donors are so passionate that they offered to finance NFL-/Saban-like money for Harbaugh and a top-echelon staff. The fans are so passionate that they flooded onto every message board and commented on every medium every time some writer or TV person seemed likely to breath so much as "Har…" Jim's friends and former teammates are so passionate that they reportedly formed a train of callers and kept up an unrelenting press since November. And finally Jim is so passionate about his school that he gave up/set aside his (apparently real) NFL aspirations to come back to the farm.
College doesn't have the NFL's money, nor its cachet, nor is it the pinnacle of the sport. But the thing about college football is we care way more. That's why it happened.
From left: Brady Hoke & Jerry Kill in 2011 [Upchurch], Les Miles and Cam Cameron at the 1989 spring game [Bentley], and James Franklin as a coordinator [courtesy Maryland Athletics]
For HTTV this year I did a study on Big Ten and SEC, and the factors that led to a marked disparity in football success that grew up between them since 1999. One of the most stunning differences I found was in the splashiness of coaching hires.
Someone on the board early this morning asked whether high-profile candidates are such a big deal. The original study answered this emphatically: "Yes!" I thought I'd extend it to the rest of the Power 5 hires since '99 and see if that's still true.
Methodology: I looked at the circumstances at the moment of hiring of every coach (156 total) who started a tenure at a currently Power 5 program since 1999, and put them into one of three (plus one) categories:
- Strong: Stealing another BCS school's coach, or the heir apparent at a power program, or grabbing the year's hottest candidate, or being the school that finally pries a legendary mid-major coach away when everyone else has been trying for years. Universally, these are headline-grabbing guys who probably needed a major monetary incentive to pry them from their last position.
- Average: A guy who was obviously responsible for turning a mid-major into a perennial 9- or 10-win team, a successful NFL or power program coordinator, promoting your own heir apparent (not after firing his boss), etc. These are the hires that you nod at and say "that makes sense" or "B+".
- Cheap: Promoting a coordinator you didn't plan on, grabbing a mid-major coach with mediocre success or success that's not obviously his. Grabbing a washout from the NFL or the Power 5, or a guy who wouldn't have been on any coaching radar except yours.
- (Interim): Don't count unless they were made full.
- These are of course debatable, since they're the opinions of one dude who's been obsessively following college football over this time period, so you can only draw so much. I didn't remember all of them, obviously, but I was able to jog my impressions by reading articles on coaching searches around the time. This is one instance when my life was actually made better by the annual proliferation of "we grade this year's hires" articles from mainstream outlets. When I couldn't decide, I defaulted "average."
- I welcome your suggestions for changes, so long as they fit the criteria (hindsight must be irrelevant).
- The data:
[After the jump: what we learned]
Somebody's gonna give me credit for drafting C.J. Brown.
So we tried doing this big draftageddon thing to be all informative. Some people liked it; other people said they only care about their own fantasy teams. Fine. I get it. Some people like to read an average novel's worth of bloggers infighting over Rutgers offensive linemen, and some people prefer to use their football knowledge to make money for themselves.
To everyone but the 9 of you who voted for my Draftageddon team, if you think you can beat me, then I implore you: beat me. See that team above? That is my team for Week 1 of our fantasy partner Draft King's, now-totally-accepting-entries, college football contest, or "CFB $10K REDSHIRT" game as it's apparently named.
/offers to be official naming things guy.
/changes that to Executive Vice President of Titling Operations
My team. Yes, I took all Big Ten players except tight end because I feel like I've watched so much O.J. Howard while scouting Nussmeier's offense that he might as well be one of us. Can you do better? No. You can't. I'm so sure of it in fact that if you beat me I'll give you $5 off the MGoStore.
Your team. Details on the game in bullets:
- You're just drafting guys who play on Saturday afternoon, 8/30. No picking Nits who play at 8:30 a.m. in Ireland, etc.
- $10,000 prize pool.
- $2 entry fee. Entry is free if it's your first deposit.
- $1,000 1st Place prize.
- Top 1,150 are paid.
- Starts on Saturday, August, 30th at 12:00 EST.
- Salary Cap Style Drafting. $50,000 to select 9 spots.
- Roster Format: 2 QB, 2 RB, 3 WR, 1 TE, 1 Flex.
- First time depositors at DraftKings receive a 100% bonus up to $600
Details on the contest:
- If you beat me (tie goes to the dealer yo) this week I'll email you with a code to use in the MGoStore for $5 off anything. Shipping still applies.
- Only one coupon per person. If multiple teams beat me (like that would ever happen) you still can only use the code once on your store account.
- BiSB isn't allowed to enter, else we'd have to give him the MGoStore.
Weird thing: You can still draft Jake Butt. Braxton Miller too but at least they have the red circle thing next to him to warn you not to draft him. Jake Butt: nothing.
Other weird thing: No NORFLEET?
/offers to be official Michigan roster insider guy
/offers to come up with a kickass name for that position.
Last week I did the thing you're not supposed to do: I got into an argument with a Tennessee fan about conference strength. Actually it started as a conversation about how cute my 1-year-old dog is but all conversations with SEC fans are really conference strength conversations. Before the inevitable deterioration into Woodson-Manning (which is particularly impossible with him because he knew Peyton in school and has an incredible story about how nice of a guy Peyton Manning was) I thought to test his assertion that the SEC has been dominant, except for 2005, since Bear Bryant's day.
Attempting to debate this, I stumbled onto sports-reference.com's SRS statistic. It stands for "Simple Rating System" and was borrowed from the NFL guys. What it represents is how much that team should beat an average team:
So every team's rating is their average point margin, adjusted up or down depending on the strength of their opponents.
This generally works for the NFL because of relative schedule parity. But it proved useless for comparing college football teams and conferences over history because they lacked that. I'll explain why, but first lets apply SRS averages of the conferences since 1964 to our debate, which demonstrates… that I just totally screwed myself:
Well yeah, but we admitted this: until Penn State joined and some of the dreks got their acts together it really was the Big Two-Little 8. Let's see mostly Michigan-Ohio State against Alabama et al.:
It stayed pretty even except when Michigan wasn't good. There's a reason for that: Michigan (35 times) and Ohio State (33) teams account for over two thirds of Big Ten's 100 representatives from the last 50 years. Alabama teams are counted 28 times, with Florida (18), Tennessee (15), Georgia (12), Auburn (11) and LSU (11) all ahead of the next Big Ten team, which is Penn State (8). Until the '90s, the bottom half of the Big Ten sucked way worse than the bottom half of the SEC, according to SRS:
What really happened here: the SEC teams were playing easier schedules until the Big Ten caught on and started scheduling bodybags, and then things were even until the Big Ten started actually sucking. I explain, after the jump.
[The jump, after which I explain, as I just explained]