"Rodrick Williams Jr.'s 10-month old, 2-foot-long savannah monitor named "Kill" gets the RB some strange looks when they go for walks together."
"There are three stages in an actor's career: Who is John Amos? Get me John Amos. Get me a young John Amos." –John Amos | Photo: John T. Greilick, Detroit News
He's listed at 6'4" and 205 lbs. In his career so far – about 50 snaps – he's thrown 24 passes and completed 14 (58.3%) for 186 yards and 1 TD. He's also rushed for 56 yards (96 forward, 40 backwards) and 2 scores. He kinda looks like a young version of that guy who played Admiral Fitzwallace on the West Wing.*
For the last three games Hoke has been working Devin Gardner into the offense more often, either with the "Fritz" formation, the Denard Jet, or in some practiced Gardner-specific packages. How much of a 'rotation' this is can be overstated. Before Marcus Rush's flagrant roughing the passer knocked out Denard on Michigan's last drive I counted 67 snaps, of which 5 were Gardner's alone, 6 used both QBs, and 56 were just Denard. That's about a 90-10 split.
This is an attempt to discuss some prevailing theories as to why Devin is taking away a tenth of snaps from a Davey O'Brien award semifinalist.
* DYK: John Amos played ball for Colorado State back in the day.
THEORY 1: RUNNING QUARTERBACKS ARE FOR SOCIALISTS
The inevitable result of Denard's 2011 regression has been leagues of old blues who see Devin Gardner's hype and strapping physique and decide that anyone who looks more like a Scot Loeffler acolyte must be able to complete more than 30 percent of his passes in a trash tornado. They would be correct on the last bit; 3 for 7 is 43 percent. He also had a play so freshman-y against MSU it got through the entire first stanza of Yakety Sax:
The old men say things like "he's a better fit for Borges' offense," because the columnists they read break down all offenses into Manballicans and Spreadocrats, Borges being of the former (never mind that he's run a different offense at every stop). Their ranks are swelled by the same "Put in Henson" effect that has made 2nd string QBs and goalies so beloved wherever starters are struggling.
But there is evidence that Gardner is a more accurate passer than Robinson, not from the games but because his coaches say that. Hoke at the post-MSU presser:
Can you talk about philosophy of alternating Devin and Denard? “Yeah, we thought we may do some of that, and part of what pushed it over a little more was that it was a windy day, and I think Devin at times can throw the ball a little more accurately.”
So if we take the politics out and pare this theory down to "Gardner is more accurate," that accounts for two plays last week. One was when Denard overthrew Hemingway down the sideline in the 2nd quarter and was yanked for Gardner. Gardner immediately missed a wide open Hopkins for a 50-yard score. Later on they brought in Devin for an important 3rd and 11 early in the 4th quarter; Gardner fumbled the snap.
THEORY 2: THE MOST TALENTED GUYS ON THE FIELD
By recruiting metrics, Gardner is the most talented offensive player on Michigan's team. He was the No. 1 ranked dual-threat QB in 2010 to everybody but ESPN (Bolden), a 5-star to Scout, and the 5th ranked QB to pretty much everyone. Everyone who has a believable opinion about scouting says Devin has every type of it. After a year and change in the program, is there any way we can get some of that it on the field without giving up the rainbows and love and liquid happy of Denards?
Borges after debuting the Fritz:
We talked about it a little bit and after spring football it became apparent Devin was a skilled kid, we just tried to figure out a way we could use him. It’s hard, without literally giving quarterbacks series, and I know they did that here in the past, I’m just not a fan of breaking the starting quarterback’s rhythm by taking him out for another guy.
Game theorists and bloggers love this explanation. Technically they're replacing a receiver so the talent tradeoff is Roundtree for Devin. But if you're already overreacting to Denard and then you have to deal with Devin's legs on the other side, and Devin's arm, and oh yeah there's a running back who can go up the middle or option or (Gotchya!) pass it, you can see how opposing DC's can end up with disorders.
Last week this was very effective. The Denard Jet play netted two first downs that were both a shoestring tackle away from breaking big, and two well-defended fake jets that Gardner dumped off for 4 yards on 1st down, and a ran for 3 yards that should have been 8 if Devin hadn't missed his hole.
THEORY 3: THE LAW OF DIMINISHING DENARDS
Molk(+.5) and Schofield block down, Robinson(+1) finds a small hole and squirts into the secondary for 7 yards, where two linebackers and a safety converge. Denard gets up holding his hand.
The thinking goes, the more you play Denard, the more banged up he gets and thus the worse his performance. Talk during the offseason was all about limiting Robinson's carries. One way to reduce wear is to have him pass more, but his passing this year—scheme is part of it, inaccuracy is most of it—makes that untenable as his 2009-y performance against MSU shows:
This is rushing and passing together, with baby seals and EMUs excised. I was looking for some evidence that Denard's effectiveness goes down the deeper into a year you get but it doesn't show that. What it does show is Denard is less effective against better defenses (duh moment) and that he was very much Freshman Denard against MSU. It was also his passing-iest game yet.
Another way to keep miles off the Robinsonmobile is to drive the Gardner more. The tradeoff is that the best part of this offense is Denard's legs and that defenses have to overreact to that whenever Denard's legs are in the game.
Thus the Fritz and Denard Jet packages, which so far have gotten Denard hit about a third of the time but have Denard's legs as a threat 100% of the time.
THEORY 4: THE TATE FORCIER EFFECT
One of the reasons advanced stats loved Michigan's offense last year is we put up way above average yards against Illinois and Iowa, two statistically good defenses. Those also happen to be Tate Forcier's two extended appearances not in garbage time.
Tate had 597 yards on 84 passing attempts last year, all but 13 of those passes against real Big Ten defenses when filling in for a dinged Denard. With him gone and most of the Big Ten season ahead, this job falls to Devin Gardner. It might be a good idea to come up with a few plays he can do well and get those snaps logged. We've got that. In the Monday presser Hoke elaborated a little bit on the just-Devin package:
When you put Devin in the game, is there a purpose to that? “There’s three plays that we like Devin to run. One was the touchdown that he had against Northwestern -- that boot. And there’s another boot in there that we really wanted him to be a part of besides the combination of them both in there.”
More of this after NW from Borges:
Does it help to have Devin play a couple snaps when Denard was out from a coaching standpoint and from his standpoint? “Oh yeah, absolutely. Because Devin’s a highly skilled kid. He is. When he can go in the game and score a touchdown, really not make any tactical or technical errors, he gains confidence, and we gain confidence in his ability to do it.
Experience is needed. We had a preview of Devin in relief at the end of the MSU game and Gardner twice tried to throw the ball past the L.O.S. (the one above and the TD pass called back). That is an experience problem, and highlights the main reason, in my opinion, for getting Devin snaps: having a backup ready if/when Denard gets his dings. The experience thing is a double edged sword since it seems Robinson needs the experience snaps in this offense just as much as his backup.
In a perfect world Michigan would have an extra 15 snaps per game per quarterback we can throw away to learning. As it is that opportunity has come once this year, against Minnesota. The rest of the way, I figure the coaches will be looking for opportunities to give Devin a few more looks here and there. If he's replacing Denard more than 1 play in 10, it's because the dings have already come.
Some things that are inevitable are impossible to call until they happen. Like that Google AdSense would eventually find the perfect sponsor to reach the massive and growing audience of Michigan/cat readers. Or that Michigan would eventually run a fake from the FB dive.
It's 4th and short. Michigan has cut MSU's lead to 7 and has the ball on the MSU 9 with a little over 6 minutes to play thanks to a State fumble on its own 32. Michigan has already converted a 4th and 1 on this drive (the ZR where Denard pulled it after his RB was already being tackled). A fumbled snap, a short pass to Koger and a dead-on pass to Gallon at the sticks for 11 yards (had Michigan challenged the spot we would have gotten it) later it's 4th and inches. Then everything goes wrong:
Somewhere in Michigan, a cat is being abused.
Do you wish you would have called a running play on the fourth and one? “No. I liked the play. If we execute the play, Koger’s in the endzone. We don’t make a block that we need to make, and that’s part of it. That play’s been very successful for us. It’s a nice complement to the dive. We just didn’t execute it.”
WE DON'T MAKE A BLOCK THAT WE NEED TO MAKE
Before the snap the TE on the top of your screen (Moore) is looking inside for the snap and misses the CB start his blitz. By the time Moore is out of his stance the CB is already past him. The fake doesn't work because the corner is coming from the edge and knows exactly who has the ball.
IF WE EXECUTE THE PLAY
There was more than just the missed assignment. MSU's strongside end managed to hit both Watson (the TE) and Koger (the H-Back), which occupied Koger long enough to throw off his route. By the time Denard was on the ground, Koger still hadn't made it out of the backfield, and had picked up a safety escort.
BUT THE DIVE-FAKE WAS SET UP!
How many times in a short situation has Michigan come out in the I, shifted the RB outside, then run a FB dive? Eventually there was going to be a wrinkle off of this. Such a wrinkle was primed like a Guitar Hero Star Power Meter. Or was it?
Here's all the goal-line dives this year:
- 4th and 1 from WMU's 19. Toussaint gets 3 against the 3-4 defense.
- 2nd and goal from WMU 1. Well defended but Toussaint just barely gets the nose of the ball to break the plane.
- 3rd and goal from ND 3. ND stuffs, Hopkins fumbles, Denard picks it up and runs in unmolested.
- 3rd and goal from EMU 1. Because it's EMU they are slow to react and Toussaint leaps over the pile.
- 2nd and goal from Minn 1. Michigan gets a yard.
- 1st and goal from NW 1. Wildcats spot the play, meet Toussaint's leap, stopped just short.
- 2nd and goal from NW 1 (the next play). Toussaint doesn't jump, they stop it.
In Star Power terms this is Note-plink-plink-plink-plink-plink-plink = U No Haz Str Pwr.
DeBordian thinking would tell you a fake off the dive is perfectly set up. MSU knows the dive by heart. They're even tempting Michigan to run it by shifting the alignment. There's a hole to the left of Molk that either Toussaint or Norman will get to first. This is Man-Ball at maximum chest hair.
Because of Molk's block (he's 3/4 of the way to a seal before anyone else is out of their stance) and Toussaint's athleticism, the dive probably would have worked. It would depend on the spot, and be close.
The point is a fake off this thing was as incredibly surprising as a DeBordian waggle. MSU had seen it defended, and knew just like the rest of us that a fake was eventually inevitable. Their answer: blitz the corner in case of a keeper and having Norman shoot the hole they left.
IT'S THE WRONG OFFENSE AT THIS MOMENT
I am totally fine with the FB dive and its variations this year. It is a staple of power offenses, and except in terrible, cat-abusive situations, saves Denard from taking hits. Saves him, for example, for those times you're down a score and deep in your opponent's territory late in the 4th quarter against a rival with a three-game streak against you.
What caused this…
That was the dumbest goddamned $%&*^-*$#*ing #&!$brained dip*&%$ mother*(%$ing horse_+$# goat-&^%t &%$*y-infested $%^&stick playcalling I have ever &*$ing seen in my life.
…wasn't any of the execution problems. It was conceptual. Hoke and Borges are betting that MSU sells out against the dive—never mind the plinking—and he can use that to take an easy touchdown. This is the opposite of correct, the equivalent to Weis throwing a bomb on 2nd and 10, and giving Tate and company an extra 28 seconds for the comeback. It's throwing away a huge advantage for the advantage of surprise. It's making lemonade when God gave you apples and an apple crusher.
Every second the quarterback is moving backwards or isn't facing the line of scrimmage is a second that the quarterback isn't going to be running forward. Even if it was properly blocked. Even if Koger wasn't held up by a great rush by MSU's end, it's a terrible play call because it leaves Michigan's biggest weapon—Denard Robinson's legs—in the garage, while trusting Denard's arm (not good in a garbage tornado), Koger's catching (iffy all day), and Michigan State to not play disciplined defensively (between the whistles they were fine).
I haven't changed my opinion about these coaches: we have awesome coaches and I'd rather have them than any other person who's coached in this state the last four years. But that was a terrible, terrible call.
Close-up of the stuff on Cartman's helmet.
Every year Michigan and Michigan State play each other for a piece of schlock the governor bought at Forwards in West Branch, and every year I discover I know a lot of annoying people who went to Michigan State.* Also: a lot of fellow Michigan fans who don't get why this is a big deal. This is why it's a big deal.
Out-of-staters are bewildered that so much attention is paid to a mid-season, in-state rivalry that stands at 67-31-5. Really it's not even a full-state rivalry, as the west is pretty much blue or Notre Dame. Those who grew up in Ann Arbor don't see what the big deal is either. It's mostly about Detroit, where Michigan fans are seldom more than 10 feet from a Spartan, where classes of 10-year-olds are 70% Michigan fans and only 10% of those will get in.
Columnists searching for an overarching reason to root for the Tigers and Lions last night invariably arrived at some version of "good for the City of Detroit." If the success of the Tigers and Lions and Red Wings bind the City of Detroit in brotherhood, Michigan-Michigan State is about putting those brothers in the back seat of an un-air conditioned Taurus wagon for a five-hour drive to Mackinac.
This week in 2000 my brother (the littler one at right) announced to a bar full of Michigan fans that Michigan State was now our biggest rival because MSU beat us in '99. This got him laughed out of the Brown Jug. Yesterday Pat Caputo made the same mind exploding-ly stupid assertion. He's probably repeating it on the radio right now but you wouldn't know because nobody with 10 contiguous, functional neurons can listen to Detroit sports radio this week.
Before the '09 game I covered the metaphor evoked by Michigan/Michigan State:
But you can handle the bully [Ohio State]-- what's really irritating is when Little Brother starts picking up on something the class bully says and repeats it again and again.
And you hear it, because Little Brother is always there -- going to the YMCA, camp, the bus to school, soccer practice, a friend's house -- you can't get away from Little Bro.
Are you getting it yet? Michigan-Michigan State is a big rivalry because Michigan State fans desperately want it to be, and are willing to go to any lengths of annoyance (not universally) to make it so.
The Only Colors, which is the rational MSU fan site, just front-paged a diary-equivalent that defines the rivalry through moments of "Michigan was mean to me from 1850 to 1950." Things we must answer for:
- In 1850 Michigan wanted to form an Ag school instead of a separate university.
- Michigan proposed a system merger at the time of the Morrill Act land grant.
- Yale said Michigan should be the site of a merged forestry program. (wait what?)
- One of their professors suggested his botany program be rolled into Michigan's.
- Michigan offered to house MSC's engineering department after a fire destroyed theirs.
- Michigan didn't want MSC in the Big Ten.
- Michigan regents opposed MSC's name change to MSU.
They in turn must answer for stupid billboards, letting themselves be Nike's ken doll on Saturday, thinking that "we have hot chicks" is about the only thing worth making fun of them for, using relevant Wikipedia articles to troll us, "The Situation," having a blog called "The Enlightened Spartan" which is actually their version of Damefan1, and the last three years of this:
That was Saturday: financial mathematicians screaming at Juggalos, and the Juggalos winning. The State meathead directly behind me literally said "bitch! fuck you!" whenever MSU tackled Denard Robinson for less than five yards. On Friday, Tim came back to his apartment to find a trail of blood leading to a passed-out State meathead who'd broken in. The same guys who clumsily spray-painted a bedsheet in 2008 to declare their glorious victory over the worst Michigan team in 50 years reprised their genius. As I walked home every glassy-eyed Stiffler that passed me upped the amplitude of my anger/depression cocktail. Jesus, they were everywhere. They came to Ann Arbor cocky and stupid and left cocky and stupid. Enduring it was brutal. In their eyes, that was probably the point.
Also for giving their Tressel acolyte, ski mask posse leading coach an extension for beating the three worst Michigan teams of my lifetime.
I find rating rivalries by level of hatred or categorizing them does a disservice to the rivalries. They're each specific to their respective fan bases and regions. Put two fandom-as-loyalty programs in the same state and you get the Iron Bowl; keep the ag school out of the conference and you get Cy-Hawk. This one is what you get when the model Morrill Act university shares a state with a (recovering) apex program. Outside of the state they're the reason non-sports fans often wonder why Michigan shirts are sometimes green.** But here in metro-Detroit we daily have to hear them say things like "I can't stand people who root for Michigan who never even went there," as if they've never heard of a Midwest Ivy whose only fans are alumni. I wonder if they'll same the same for Nebraska.
After last year one of the pantheon of Spartan nitwits on Detroit's airwaves suggested Michigan had become Northwestern. I heard this in literally the only five minutes of sports talk radio I listened to for the rest of 2010. Thus is the watch word of the Spartan faith: all history beyond last season is irrelevant except the Battle of Thermopylae as imagined by Zack Snyder (2011 addendum: and in basketball).
Hoke et al. immediately and dramatically ended the recent Sparty in-state recruiting party, so much so that Michigan fans are back to ingenuously praising a pair of Spartan commits in Ohio. The only reminder of that brief run should an annoyingly good spate of tailbacks and defensive ends for the next three years. At this point Brady Hoke can probably weather a loss to Michigan State without losing all the goodwill he's earned here so far. Beating them, however, would go a long way toward making Detroit a better place to live.
* Not you Stunt.
** Waitaminute…is there like a second Notre Dame in Indiana by any chance? Notre Dame A&M or something? Which one's the one with gold helmets?
Several months ago Brian left a few whacky meatball surgeons in charge of the B.L.O.G. 4077th unit while he did the wedding/honeymoon thing. In need of good filler we duly turned over content control to the enlisted, then didn't use any of their ideas. Then TrapperVH and Major Tim Burns left the show and we forgot 'em, but this query from a non emu:
… When Hoke was hired, Brandon alluded to some research that he had done on correlation between the background of a new head coach and his winning percentage. He basically said that coaches who had previously coached in the conference, played, or recruited in the catchment area of a B10 school was much more likely to be successful than a complete outsider, and this was one of the reasons that made Hoke a more compelling candidate. …
…resulted in an excel spreadsheet (Google doc) that I've been tinkering with ever since.
We may call this the Gary Moeller effect since he is the epitome of a guy with longstanding Big Ten experience before he took his marquee Big Ten head coaching job. Mo started working for Bo at Miami (NTM) and after '69 the only years he wasn't coordinating something for Michigan were three spent as the head coach of Illinois. But he's also the antithesis for the Illini years, when Moeller went 3-18-3 in the Big Ten, way worse than before him.
At Michigan, Moeller became the most successful Big Ten coach in the last 40 years (ties counted for 0.5 each, records through 2010):
|Rk||Coach||School||Yrs||B10 Wins||B10 Losses||B10 W%|
(Penn State is excised because when JoePa took over every team was in the Pangaea Conference. Bo Pelini too, for the same reason: not with the conference when they became HC).
Defining success isn't that straightforward. John Cooper* and Earl Bruce won a lot of Big Ten games at OSU but both were -9.5% in conf. winning % versus the 10 years preceding them while Hayden Fry (+32%), Joe Tiller (+25%), and Gary Barnett (+21%) dramatically improved moribund programs. When I compared every coach over the last 40 years to the 10 years before he arrived, I got this for best and worst:**
|Coach||School||Yrs||B10 W%||10 Years before him||Change|
But then the W% method is really unfair to coaches who took over great teams. Lloyd Carr is a hall of fame coach who won around 78% of his Big Ten games over 13 years in a tough conference environment, but versus '85 to '94 he's –2.36%, good for about average. John Pont made the Top 10 for getting Indiana from 18% to 37%. Pont later reappears just outside the loser's bracket for taking over a 40% Northwestern team and winning just 25% of his conf. games. Using both metrics however can give us a list of dudes worth discussing from the last 20 years:
(after the jump):
Title note: Since Brian moved this column to Wednesday morning, "Museday" is now "Hump Hypotheses," until that name also becomes stupid. New format, same old Miso soup.
Question: Against SD State we finally got to see Michigan play a full game against a pass-oriented offense. Against this Michigan usually sent four rushers, occasionally more. Last year I seem to remember this being three (out of a base 3-3-5) more often. I wonder if the extra rusher is making Michigan more effective against the pass this year?
Declaration of biases: Eeeeee Mattison.
Research: Thx Brian for adding rush stats to UFR since ND 2010. Yoink. Since it's not available yet I had to do my own SD State charting. From this I took out anything that looked like an end-of-half/4th quarter prevent, plus all of the runs, big play-action, waggles, and any plays from inside the 10, which make it hard to gauge if there were any late blitzers. I also excised last year's game against Purdue because that was played in a monsoon against Perry the Torn ACLephant.* Then I went about determining if each of those plays was a "Win" for the defense, defined thusly:
- 1st down: If the offense gained less than 1/2 of the yards for a first down (so 5 yards from 1st and 10) that's a "Win"
- 2nd down: less than 2/3 of the yards to first down=Win
- 3rd or 4th down: if the offense does not get the 1st down
- Turnovers are obviously Wins.
Incompletes go for zero yards—if the pass went to Tacopants, well it's results-based charting. Have at it.
*Michigan spent the whole day rushing three and this worked pretty much 90% of the time.
Hypothesis: We were right to be saying "Michigan sends 3 ARRRGGGHHH!" last year. Sending four this year is helping the defense improve.
Let's test that: In case your eyes haven't picked this up already, Mattison sends more guys after the passer. He's averaging about 4.5 rushers per pass play, versus GERG's 3.9 among those we count from last year. Here's a tendency chart:
This is not just a difference of a 4-3 defense versus a 3-3-5. Mattison has called a lot of zone blitzes where a DL backs into coverage, and the 3-3-5 is designed to often have one or two guys coming. Michigan's defense in 2011 is more aggressive than it was last year. Using the W/L formula above, let's see how much more effective it is because of that:
GERG in 2010:
Contrary to my memory, Robinson's 3-man rushes were kind of effective by this simple win/loss method. Everything else was flipping a coin.
I counted this as sending five; Gordon was covering the RB and
stepped up when he saw his man was in pass pro.
Mattison in 2011:
He's definitely sending more guys. Effectiveness seems to be..wait, down?:
AAHHHHHHH this isn't right. This can't be right. Well for one Mattison barely ever sends three. He did it once versus SDSU, and that when Michigan was up 28-7 with 5 minutes left in the 4th quarter. It went for 15 yards. However when I look at the wins and losses when the game is within 8 points it's still way favoring GERG:
AHHHHHHH. This is literally not what I expected. Maybe my Wins and Losses thing is just stupid. Let's do this by simple yards per play when Michigan rushes…
And there you see it. I may have found what's throwing me off here. The Pass/Fail nature of my system was not showing that when GERG's defense failed, it failed BIG. Look what happens to yards per pass when I only count the "Loss" plays:
|Rush 3||Rush 4||Rush 5||Rush 6||Rush 7|
When the 2010 pass defense failed, it didn't just give up the first down, but often a good chunk afterwards. The 2011 defense is still 50/50 to get the job done on any given passing play, but at least they're living to see the next series more often than not. That means more chances per drive for a turnover.
Last bit, just to see if this is changing running stats:
|Rush YPC||Rush YPG||Rush TDs/Game||Pass TDs/game|
|2010 (All of it)||4.4||188.9||2.6||1.6|
|2011 (4 games)||4.7||156.0||0.5||1.0|
Er. My expectation here was that Rushing YPC would be way down due to an extra rusher being around when a running play is called, but they're actually up a good bit. However the TDs given up are way way down. That combined with not once have we seen a freshman corner vacate his zone in dime, and this defense looks like it's already at mediocre and learning things that might make them good.
Holding this to 15 yards maybe should be a win.
Draw a Conclusion: Mattison hasn't even faced the best teams on his schedule yet so I can't claim anything is better or fixed. What I can say is the theory that the huge flip in turnover margin this year and/or improved defensive back play is probably having a bigger effect on Michigan's apparent defensive improvement than line scheme/aggressiveness. The data are way too close and inconclusive to draw anything for certain, and four games is not enough to assess, especially considering it's the first four games with this defense. But it is kind of interesting to see that rushing the extra guy seems to be doing a better job of keeping down the big plays than having eight men in coverage. That was really unexpected, though again it probably has a lot more to do with the efficacy of the specific defensive backs in coverage more than scheme.
Bonus: here's how they do on each down:
According to like everybody, college presidents and conference executives are at it again, carving up the BCS landscape before they themselves get carved like a particularly bloody game of Europa Universalis. [ed: this has to be the only sports blog in the universe with not one but two references to EU.] So long as the Big Ten doesn't end up in the NHL's slot among four pro leagues, I don't care that much.
Playing Devil's advocate, I think I understand why people do care. The going meme is we're headed for 16-team conferences because they get bigger TV deals, and if you don't get your Mizzous now while the gettin' is good, the Big Ten will eventually find itself holding a press conference to extoll the virtues of Iowa State wrestling. I don't see Iowa State's value as an umpteenth member being worth an umpteenth share of BTN. That's hardly stopping ADs and conferences from playing war games.
Even if the ACC, PacX and SEC expand to 16 teams, they only match the star power at the top of the Big Ten. Michigan-Ohio State-Nebraska-Penn State and friends (in football) is still a bigger deal than FSU-Miami-Notre Dame and friends, still a bigger deal than Texas-USC-Oklahoma and friends, and holds up against Bama and the Holy Southern Empire except for that one century when Bama's friends are all like AUSTRRIIAAAAAAA!!!!!
Most recently it's the ACC invading Syracuse and Pitt to shore up defenses in case of an SEC attack, while SEC armies jump around out east trying to balance Texas A&M. West Virginia's doing the thing where the girl tells her friend to tell UConn to tell Dooley that the SEC kinda sorta maybe already asked her out. Missouri's all like hey, I invented that gambit!
That's not 16-team leagues, the mega-conference endpoint doomsday scenario. It's closer to it than we were when the ACC broke the pax conferenca to grab VT, Miami, and BC.
What was way more more nerve-wracking was the Pac 12 looking for a casus belli to annex Texas and Oklahoma (plus respective vassals Okie State and Texas Tech). But late last night the Pac 12 looked at a world where they've annexed Texas, and decided to remain 12—crisis averted.
Today there are zero 16-team conferences. The SEC and ACC may get to 14 soon, unless the latter is grabbing territories to make up for one it expects to lose. Remnants of the Big East and Big XII may meet to form something out of their remaining members that's not quite a BCS conference, but that will only happen if Texas and Oklahoma leave, and would end up around 10 or 11.
I disagree with those who say it's going to ruin college football; college football is awesome and will continue being such until they don't put wings on helmets anymore. But it can make college football suck significantly more by redefining conferences as massive corporations with stock options. Eight to 10 teams is a group of similar schools that expand their students' networks, share research, and organize sporting events. By Twelve it's more of a leauge than a conference. At fourteen it becomes stupid -- you are now in a "conference" with teams you don't play most years.
I don't even know how to balance a schedule with 6 division opponents, 7 cross-divisional opponents, and 9 conference games. Teams will undoubtedly have six-year intervals without playing each other at all. If they started in 2012, Pitt could see FSU at home six times between now and 2043. This is about how often Michigan plays UCLA.
Now would be a great time for the NCAA to grow a pair and replace its current president with a Caesar-like lifetime commissioner, for other reasons too (get compliance in order), but because that's the only way the not-quite-finished realignment cycle will be finished with other goals than a pressing TV deal in mind.
If you choose to click through past the jump, I've put together a pair of concepts for a workable NCAA league just in case this stuff all blows up like they're saying. Only go if you're into that sort of thing.
META Note: This space was meant to be a study on Mattison's rush tendencies versus GERG last year and their effectiveness. However the EMU game offered next to no data on the pass rush and present info from 3/4 of a Western game and a balls-out ND game are nowhere near enough to talk yet.