2012 season predictions
Before the season began, I read some tea leaves, and came up with the following, Star Wars-themed probabilities for how we’d do in the regular season:
1. The Empire Strikes Back (12-0; p = .01)
2. A New Hope (11-1; p = .19)
3. Return of the Jedi (10-2; p = .29)
4. Revenge of the Sith (9-3; p = .31)
5. Attack of the Clones (8-4; p = .19)
6. The Phantom Menace (7-5; p = .01)
Though they were always a bit unlikely, Episodes V and IV are sadly now off the table. As a result, I have to redistribute the probabilities, as I did last year at midseason. Unlike last year, though, I have to redistribute down, rather than up. But hope is not lost! The Big 10 kinda sucks this year, or more accurately is very mediocre. That means all of our upcoming opponents, aside from Ohio, range from worse-than-expected (Sparty, Nebraska) to better-than-expected-given-that-not-much-was-expected (Northwestern, Iowa) all the way to better-than-expected-given-that-basically-nothing-was-expected (Minnesota). Hardly a murderer’s row.
Consequently, there’s only one game where I figure we’re more likely to lose than win, and four others we “could” lose but shouldn’t. If I make that into a simple algorithm, where a “near-lock” (Minnesota) gets 1.00, a “should win” gets 0.67 (Sparty, Nebraska, Northwestern, Iowa) and a “can win” (Ohio) gets 0.33, we get this:
(1.00 + 4(.67) + 0.33) = 4.01
Translated, that predicts a 4-2 record over our last 6 games, and an 8-4 record overall. It’s easy to see how this would happen: a loss away at Ohio plus one more unforeseen loss, such as a fifth straight against Sparty, another road stinker at Nebraska or a “looked-past” Iowa or Northwestern. Incidentally, this is exactly the same number of wins the Mathlete predicts. I’m moderately more bullish than that, though, and think we’ll do better. Here’s why:
1. Our defense is not the same one that took the field during the first two weeks
2. Our offense seems to have returned to late-2011 form
3. One of our losses, to a consensus top-10 team, happened because of a turnover and penalty fest that’s unlikely to be replicated.
4. Our other loss was to consensus number 1 Alabama, and we don’t play anyone even remotely that good again in the regular season.
5. Of our 5 remaining “losable” games, 3 are at home, and 1 of the others is against Nebraska, who didn’t match up well against us last year, and don’t seem all that different this time around.
To put it another way, I still think a 5+ loss season is unlikely, and relatively less likely than a 3 or even 2 loss season. Unfortunately, given our penchant for an occasional offensive identity crisis, that 4-loss scenario is hard to argue against. So without further ado, I present to you the revised predictions, Indiana Jones-themed this time:
1. Raiders of the Lost Ark
Scenario: We kick Nazi ass. We search for—and find—ancient relics. We close our eyes as the blinding light of truth and justice melts the egos and arrogance of our enemies.
Record: 10-2. We run the table. We win the Big 10 Championship. We play in the Rose Bowl. We are possibly good enough to beat whomever we play in the Rose Bowl. We finish the season with our heads held high. Denard goes out like the hero he is.
Probability: (p = .20). Not likely but not outside the realm of possibility either. Is Ohio really that good? Color me skeptical. That defense had a rough go of it against Indiana, and a pretty rough go of it against Nebraska too. The offense can score points, but hey…so can we! Unfortunately the game’s away, and we haven’t won in Columbus since 2000. Still, I wouldn’t exactly be shocked if we did win. And there isn’t a single other team on our schedule that scares me. The worry there is more about numbers.
2. The Last Crusade
Scenario: We reunite with our Dad, who did this a lot in the olden days. It’s tough realizing we are our father’s sons, but in the end we realize it’s just who we are, and the old man has a lot he can teach us. But we’ll never stop trying to be better than he was. Never.
Record: 9-3. We kick a lot of ass, but stumble somewhere along the way, probably but not necessarily at Ohio. Depending on who we lose to, and how other teams do in conference play, it’s still probably good enough to go to the Big 10 Championship Game, which we would probably win. That means Rose Bowl, though in this scenario we’d go in with a lower ranking and lower probability of winning it.
Probability: (p = .30). I’ve got a gut feeling this is it. Even though the Big 10 is deeply mediocre this year, it’s also deep with peskiness. Iowa and Northwestern, for example. A fired up Sparty has that potential too, though
3. The Temple of Doom
Scenario: We end up in a chaotic place where evil ones eat monkey brains and pull the hearts out of still-living captives. We make it out alive.
Record: 8-4. Racist stereotyping aside, this was an okay film. Rephrased, we could say an 8-4 season is “adequate but problematic.” That’s a good way to describe a scenario in which we lose 2 of the 5 losable games (probably at Ohio plus one we-should-have-taken-them loss), but still get to a decent bowl game. Maybe this year it’s even good enough to get to the conference championship, and a clear path to the Rose Bowl (where we’d get to play any one of the several Pac-12 teams that are currently ranked higher than we are). It would also be a disappointing, but not too disappointing, end to the whole spread-option experiment..
Probability: (p = .40). This is what the math and the Mathlete think is going to happen. It’s probably the most rational prediction at this point, given our high-ish ceiling in a mediocre conference, but also our occasional, sometimes-inexplicable regression to the mean. If you are a betting man/woman, and like to make your bets cautiously, put your money here.
4. Kingdom of the Crystal Skull
Record: 7-5 or worse. We lose 3 or more of the 5 losable games—keeping in mind that 3 of those 5 teams are not very good. Ergo, we are not very good.
Probability: (p = .10). While I probably won’t be as angry with 5 losses as I was when I saw this “film,” I might be if we go 6-6. I don’t really see that happening, but it’s more realistic than it seemed at pre-season. I just don’t see it unless we have some catastrophic injuries or a hurricane parks over the state of Michigan for the next 45 days.
Gee, That’s A Weird Distribution
Yes it is. I struggled with the way it skews, but in the end feel it’s justified. Why? Because the only game on our schedule I see us potentially losing even with a clean game, healthy roster, normal conditions and appropriate offensive gameplan is the showdown with Ohio.* The others would all necessitate disastrous penalties, a major injury, another trash tornado and/or another game in which Al Borges and Denard inexplicably come to believe that Denard is Brett Favre the Gunslinger only to find he’s the wrong kind of Brett Favre the Gunslinger. Thankfully those moments of delusion seem to only happen on the road—and sometimes, like Notre Dame 2011, he really does look a bit like the good Brett Favre.
Simply put, my instinct says we go 9-3 but the rational part of my brain says 8-4. The semi-rational fan in me says 10-2. The amygdala, where fear impulses come from, says 7-5 or worse, but we don’t listen to it and neither should you.
*That isn’t to say we will lose to Ohio, or that it will happen this way, just that I can picture it in a sort of last-year-but-opposite kind of way.
Some say the blobs on the beach of Mobile can be chalked up to the tar balls BP donated. In reality, it was the stain and sludge finally surfacing and left behind when Nick Saban crawled upon the shores of Alabama. The man has an automatic “Montgomery Burns” edition of automatic doors and a whole other string of players on medical redshirts. There is no doubt that after this essence of evil was suppressed by a lackluster program on the banks of the Cedar, his bad voodoo has been in full force. He has humiliated and tortured other teams in his conquest of the NCAA.
The man has a disgraceful persona so heavy that even he cannot celebrate his biggest wins. He retires to his lair and begins the planning of world domination after every game in the belly of a Greyhound bus. Michigan is coming from a complete different 270 degree position where they have not had the luxury of enjoying the knee knocking fear displayed on their opponent's face, but instead this once great program that suffered a great civil war and limped along in life. Then a man of mutant stature Hoke emerged from the killing fields of many MGoBlogger meltdowns, détente treaties, radioactive topics that were not safe to traverse in conversation, and a hungry loyal following. Jimmy Carter got booted for a said malaise in the country, as did another southern gentleman by the name of Rich Rodriguez for a football program in the same state.
What followed was thought to be as possible as Luxembourg touting a basketball team in the Olympics to defeat the U.S. Dream Team II. Regardless of the impossible odds of an 11 win season and a Sugar Bowl victory, Michigan did it. The offense had more control of the offense as to sustain lasting drives and the defense look as if they did cage fighting over the previous summer with Liam Neeson to toughen their resolve and TUFFness. As the season progressed, the team, the team, the team began to congeal into a deadly opportunistic football team. GoBo finally shaped the offense around Nard Dog’s strengths along with taking some pressure off him with a respectable running game. The juggernaut in a pumpkin carriage capitulated with a defensive victory over a team that would have taken Michigan behind the woodshed in years prior. The sugar poured, and the people roared.
My only logical and reasonable reasoning comes from last year’s Penn State and Alabama game. Alabama wasn’t coming off a National Championship, but heading into one. Given that Penn State was a heavy underdog in the souls of the Nittany Lion hearts same time last year, some of the more “hope for the best, prepare for the worst” crowd in Ann Arbor can relate to the angst and guttural fear of being more meat in the Saban grinder. Although Alabama controlled most of the game, the beating wasn’t as severe as once thought. Penn State suffered through the pain of dying a thousand paper cuts. Michigan’s offense is arguably much more dynamic and able to strike than the Penn State team of a year ago. There are some questions of holes being filled on the O-line and receiving corps. There is also a numbing knowledge of an almost certainly suspended Toussaint that could put the responsibility of winning the game on the lone shoulders of D-Nard. This could lead to the irisless peepers of the Crimson Tide defense on the same person. On defense, the anticipation of how well the D-Line will do without Mike Martin anchoring the buffet busters of 2011 is at its peak. There are glimmering prospects with Will Campbell taking advantage of a Groupon coupon to the Barwis Boot Camp training. The senior is a story in the making of a senior that finally gets what his place is in the team and becomes a one man tsunami on the defensive line. Craig Roh may also get to show that he saved the best for last.
With all the potential outcomes, I think it will boil down to a Michigan team with some questions on replacing key players and possibly being in a unfortunate position of actually having to deal with the new feeling of having a high bar that came unexpectedly last season. Can Michigan focus on having a whole new year ahead of them with the loss of an “us vs. the world” mentality they used as tacklin fuel last year? Can the holes be filled with the unknown and compete at an equal or even better level? These things will be made perfectly clear September 1st, 2012. I do think it is entirely possible for Michigan to catch a rusty and hungover Alabama team with stellar performances by their own offense and defense and pull a wet dream of an upset. But this is Alabama. Premier, Nikolas Saban at the helm. The man has created a machine that even would make Neo pee a little. It is for this reason of shadowy practices and ESS EEE SEE culture of moral fortitude in following every loophole that allows me to believe that a valiant attempt will come up short to the meat processing plant built in the West Nile infested swamp of Tuscaloosa, Alabama. It will however, be the very circumstance in where being wrong is much better than being right.
- Pre-season prediction: 8-4
- Mid-season prediction: 9-3
- What really happened: 10-2
To put it mildly, we beat most rational expectations last year, including mine. Then we beat them again, winning the Sugar Bowl against a pretty darned good Virginia Tech team. It was glorious, and appeared to signal Michigan’s return to its rightful place among the college football elite.
Now we get to find out how sustainable all that was. On the plus side, we have D-Lithium and a whole mess ‘o returning starters from a team that finished the season with the #26 scoring offense and the #6 scoring defense, plus a bona fide elite coaching staff! On the other hand, our 2012-3 squad faces a more daunting schedule, the loss of Denard’s security blanket “Junior” and the prospect of life after Mike Martin, while possessing only razor thin depth at key positions and being burdened by something we didn’t have this time last year: expectations.
So how’s it going to turn out? Good question, and not one you can really answer. Okay, sure, we can say it’s bloody unlikely that we’ll go 5-7, but are we going to be 8-4 or 10-2? That 2-win range hinges as much on unpredictable things like injuries, fumbles and ball bounces as it does on returning starters of the strength of coaching. Because of this, as I did last year, I’m going to provide you with a series of scenarios for the regular season, and then evaluate their likelihood in terms of probability. Oh, and I hope you like Star Wars…
1. The Empire Strikes Back
Scenario: We are awesome, and by awesome, I mean flat out, Darth-Vader-kicking-everyone’s-ass awesome. Denard is the Heisman favorite, Will Campbell has morphed into an NFL first rounder, everyone shows significant improvement over last year and nobody really important gets injured ever. We show those pesky rebels who's boss.
Record: 12-0. We shock the country by beating defending champions Alabama, step on Notre Dame in South Bend and then run the table in conference play. Wisconsin melts in fear of the maize and blue juggernaut, and we go on to face the SEC team du jour in the national championship game.
Probability: (p = .01). Over the course of the offseason, I’ve flirted with this scenario, and found myself increasingly able to make convincing arguments as to its feasibility. The main stumbling block is Alabama, but the more I looked at it, the more it seemed as if we had a "Buster Douglas sized chance" to win that one. The logic went something like this: PSU was able to hang with 2011-2 Alabama for 3 quarters + the fact that our 2012-3 team should be a lot better than 2011-2 PSU + the fact that 2012-3 Alabama has lost 8 starters on defense, including most of its star players + the game will be played at the beginning of the season, when teams are rusty and we might be able to get away with stuff a team that plays them in week 10 wouldn’t be = a real, if still remote, chance. Then the news broke out Fitz’s suspension and I did away with such nonsense. See, our offense really needs a credible counter threat out of the shotgun, so defenses—and particularly the fast aggressive ones—can’t just key in on Denard. Vincent Smith is worth 3-4 good plays a game, but isn’t an every-down threat out of the zone-read, and the undoubtedly talented Rawls and Hayes are still green and untested (which often translates into “fumble-prone”). Fitz is the key to moving to ball on Alabama with the consistency we’ll need, and if he’s absent, or rusty, we’re going to have problems. I hate to say it, but that "Buster Douglas sized chance" is looking more and more like it's of the "vs. Evander Holyfield" variety. I just don’t see us winning this one; and even if we do, we still have a whole mess of challenging games that follow.
2. A New Hope
Scenario: We are only marginally less awesome than in scenario #1 in the sense that we can beat pretty much anyone other than really big dogs like Alabama and USC. Denard is still a leading Heisman candidate and Will Campbell is still a stud on the D-line. Life is generally awesome. We don't need a targeting computer to blow up the Death Star.
Record: 11-1. We face a setback in the beginning, but learn from it and emerge stronger for the experience. We win the Leaders division and put that smarmy little brat from East Lansing back in his place. And then beat Ohio for the second year in a row. We make it to the Big 10 championship game, and are favored to win. A BCS game looms.
Probability: (p = .19). Hey, this could really happen! Alabama may be a tough mountain to climb, but I challenge you to find a single other game on our schedule we can’t win. Sure, beating ND in South Bend is going to be tough, but there’s no more Michael Floyd, and imagine how the last two games would have played out had he been somewhere else. Sure, we haven’t beaten either Michigan State or Iowa since 2007, but we’re at home for both and Iowa, at least, looks very beatable. And Sparty comes to town minus Missouri-hating Jerel Worthy and Nth year senior Kork Coupons, both of whom have given us fits over the years. I’m bullish on that one, and on Nebraska too. That leaves the great unknown of playing sanctioned Ohio at Ohio. You can’t ever count on that one, but I do expect there to be some growing pains associated with the transition to the Urban Meyer way, and think a win there is certainly possible, and maybe probable. The trick, of course, is doing each and every one of these things. As with the first scenario, this one relies on a lot of things going our way, including the unpredictable turnover margin and injuries. So yeah, also unlikely, but plausible at least…something that would have been unthinkable a year ago.
3. Return of the Jedi
Scenario: Our team may rack the same record as we did in 2011-2, but we are better. Why? Because our schedule is harder, that’s why. It’s considered the 4th hardest in the country, in fact. If we get to 10-2 again, it will be an accomplishment.
Record: 10-2. We drop Alabama and one road game—probably ND, but possibly also Nebraska or Ohio. That least one would hurt, as would ending the streak against ND, but you can’t win ‘em all, especially on the road in a hostile environment, and we’re going to be on the road in hostile environments a lot. This should still be good enough to make the Big 10 championship game and a BCS bowl.
Probability: (p = .29). This is, in my opinion, the second-most likely scenario. It’s what we should get on paper, given the vast number of returning starters + the fact that our offense and defense will be in the second year with the coaching staff – the harder schedule. So why only the second most likely scenario? Because, and I feel like a broken record here, that schedule is really daunting. When was the last time we beat ND in South Bend twice in three years or fewer? I’ll tell you when: 1888. History can be temporarily remade, as evidenced by Sparty’s current 4-game win streak against us, but this factoid should illustrate how hard it is to win consistently in South Bend.
4. Revenge of the Sith
Scenario: In the last of the “I’m at least okay with this” scenarios, our team is still good, but we feel the loss of Martin and Hemingway, and Denard still throws a couple ducks up for grabs at inopportune moments. Things are mostly like they were last year; only the tougher schedule and issues on the D-line shave one win off the record for us. But hey...at least we get to nerd rage on the Padawans, right?
Record: 9-3. Alabama is a loss, as is ND, and likely one of Nebraska/Ohio, though MSU comes into play here as well. One of our losses, at least, is close and painful. Still, our team is good and we can hold our heads up high. We are still in the mix for the Big 10 championship, depending on whether we have 1 or 2 losses in conference play, and depending on how Sparty does.
Probability: (p = .31). This scenario, I hate to say, seems like the most likely one to me. Only by a sliver, mind you, but the more I look at the schedule, the more I think we lean on the wrong side of the 2/3-loss fence. It’s just hard to make it through a schedule like ours without some unforeseen adversity, and sure are a lot of chances for adversity. I see five potentially “losable” games on our schedule (Alabama, ND, MSU, Nebraska and Ohio), and only one of those is at home. A 2-3 record among those strikes me what you’d expect from a team that’s got a lot of dazzle and a lot of skill, but some serious question marks in the trenches.
5. Attack of the Clones
Scenario: A disappointing year where we don’t see enough improvement from Denard in terms of interceptions and/or the D-line and/or those things are fine but someone really important gets injured. There are, however, some redeeming factors. Like Natalie Portman and kid Boba Fett.
Record: 8-4. Losses to Alabama and ND, plus 2 out of 3 among MSU/Nebraska/Ohio.
Probability: (p = .19) Is this possible? Yes. With a likely downgrade of performance on the D-line, we might have some problems with the smashmouthy, max-protect MANBALL + occasional play-action offenses that proliferate in our conference. Without much depth on the O-line and at other key positions, we are an injury away from experiencing Molk-in-2009 2.0. On the other hand, is this probable? No. It’s not. We are returning so many starters that I have a hard time seeing us lose this many games. Plus, second year of system, etc.
6. The Phantom Menace
Scenario: Epic FAIL of Jar-Jar-esque proportions.
Record: 7-5. We lose all the losable games, and go 0-3 versus our rivals.
Probability: (p = .01). I see this being as likely as us running the table. As in, not very. Our coaches are just too good for this, considering how in 2011-2 they molded a previously embarrassing defense featuring only one legitimate star into the #6 scoring defense. We have good defensive backs now. We have good linebackers now. And we have two of the best defensive coaches in the NCAA as our HC and DC. On the flipside, we have an offense that can be explosive, and really shouldn’t make as many mistakes now that it’s in the second year of Al Borges system. While a 4-loss season isn’t implausible, I think—considering all that—a 5-loss season really isn’t plausible at all.
Things really should be good this season, and by "good" I mean that we should perform well enough to not have more than 3 losses. And I'd argue that with this schedule, a 3-loss season is the equivalent to last year's 2-losser, and anything above that is an improvement. According to my prognosticatin', we have an 80% chance of reaching that level, and a 49% chance of improving on it.
This, of course, is an assessment made solely on the paper merits of our squad, their performance in the Spring Game, rumors coming out of practice and some educated guessery. Take that with a grain of salt, as you should any and all predictions. But if I were a betting man, I'd put the chips down on a 2 or 3 loss season. I hope I'm wrong, we go all Darth-Vader-on-Hoth and end up looking like 2010-1 Auburn minus the alleged sketchiness. Hoke springs eternal, and all that...