I thought that myself when I read that article that talked about a Data Scientist(tm)
All numbers included in this preview are using my PAN metric, Points Above Normal. PAN is essentially how many points above an average FBS team was a team/unit/player worth. For reference, an average FBS is approximately equal to Illinois or a top team from the MAC.
All games against FCS teams are excluded for all teams, as well as any plays in the second half where one team leads by more than 2 touchdowns or any end of half run out the clock situations.
At this point adjustments for strength of opponent are directional but still highly uncertain. They will be now be used in all situations except otherwise noted.
Rush Offense vs Michigan St
Michigan Off: +8 PAN, 2nd nationally, 1st Big Ten
Michigan St Def: -0 PAN allowed, 54th, 6th
[Chart note: positive numbers mean good performances for both offense and defense.]
Despite Michigan St holding Wisconsin to 24 points last week, they fared worse against Wisconsin’s running game than the average team has in 2010.
Michigan has been between good and ridiculous in every game this year. Michigan St’s rush defense is definitely an upgrade over the Hoosiers from last week, but it’s more of an “allow touchdowns in reasonably length drives” as opposed to a “regularly keep us out of the end zone” type matchup.
Robinson will obviously be the catalyst for Michigan. His rushing PAN is +9, over 3.5 points better than anyone else in the nation. Vincent Smith and Michael Shaw have both hovered right around zero, with Smith grading out higher due to a combination of the long run against Indiana and Shaw’s best performance coming against an FCS opponent.
Michigan will face a better rush defense than they have seen in the last month or so but Michigan St hasn’t shown anything yet to indicate they are good enough to slow Michigan’s run game down more than anyone else has. Look for at least a full touchdown worth of advantage from the Michigan rushing attack.
Pass Offense vs Michigan St
Michigan Off: +7, 4th, 2nd
Michigan St Def: –1 allowed, 46th, 4th
After struggling for the first month of the season, Michigan St’s pass defense was the difference in shutting down Wisconsin last week. Michigan’s pass game has continued to be very potent and last week at Indiana was the best game yet. Because Michigan’s passing success is built so much off the success of the running game, it’s not as clear as to how a good pass defense will be able to defend the Wolverine passing game.
Robinson has been +6 PAN on the season and is the 20th ranked passer in my ratings, which can reward for volume, which Michigan has very little of in the passing game. Robinson will be aided by a group of receivers who have been much more productive than last year. Hemingway and Roundtree are both averaging a solid +6 PAN per game and Odoms is at +3. Stonum is potentially a threat but has only been worth +2 against FBS competition.
Michigan St stepped up last week and did a great job limiting Wisconsin through the air. Although both Michigan and Wisconsin’s passing games are set up by strong ground games, the spread and shred is very different from old school Big Ten rushing. If Michigan St can replicate last week’s success this matchup could be a draw instead of the +6 for Michigan the numbers indicate.
Rush Defense vs Michigan St
Michigan Def: +1 allowed, 72nd, 7th
Michigan St Off: +3, 28th, 5th
This chart, with the exception the MSU-WMU game is a chart of averageness. Michigan hasn’t been gouged in the running game but they haven’t been closing the door on anyone either. Michigan St’s two-headed running attack came out big in Week 1 but has been relatively quiet since.
Michigan St’s +3 PAN is essentially split between Le’Veon Bell and Edwin Baker with both players contributing equally to the success. Bell had the big day against Western with a +7 showing but was shut down against Wisconsin by going –4 on the day. Baker has been much more consistent with all four games going between +1 and +3.
If you take out the beatdown Michigan St’s backs administered in Week 1, the Spartan ground game looks much more tameable. Michigan can not sleep on this matchup but is in better shape than I thought. Michigan should have a chance to reasonably contain the Spartan backs, shifting the challenge to the…
Pass Defense vs Michigan St
Michigan Def: –1 allowed, 42nd, 3rd
Michigan St Off: +2 allowed, 32nd, 6th
As I have stated previously, the high rating for Michigan’s pass defense against Indiana will not hold. I do agree with Brian that Indiana will probably still have the best pass offense in the Big Ten this year, but when you are compared to Akron and Western Kentucky in your performance, you should always come up looking good, even if you allow nearly 500 yards through the air.
Michigan’s pass defense is very difficult to assess right now. Indiana doesn’t have good comps to measure against. The BG performance mostly looks bad because of one fluke play where BG got away with a massive hold. ND and UConn both look like respectable performances in comparison with how other teams have defended them.
Michigan St has really stepped up their passing game in the last two FBS games, with a pair of +7’s against legitimate opponents. After two sub-zero PANs for Kirk Cousins to start the season, he has been +11 and +12 in his last two games (the difference between the team and his score is that sacks count against the team but not the player).
The receiving has been pretty balanced with three Spartans checking in at +4 on the season. BJ Cunningham, Keshawn Martin and Mark Dell have carried most of the load this year. All three have a game-rated +9 or higher on the season.
If Kirk Cousins can keep up his recent success this where it starts to get scary for Michigan. The Spartan passing attack will not be as good we saw last week in Indiana but if Michigan does improve in the secondary, the results could be nearly as bad, especially if Michigan St can keep Michigan looking in the backfield on play action.
Special Teams vs Michigan St
Keshawn Martin. That’s the two big green bars on the graph. He has three big returns on the year, one going the distance against Wisconsin last week. Let’s not kick to him, although he has lost a fumble on a return this season. Michigan’s blue bars have gotten closer to zero, mostly because we have chosen to forgo special teams altogether. The Spartan kicking situation is a polar opposite to Michigan. Michigan’s kickers have cost the team 5 points vs an average kicker while Michigan St’s kicker has been 5 points better than the average kicker. If this game is decided by special teams it is very unlikely to be a Wolverine win.
Predictions Almost Certain to Cost You Money if Taken Seriously
At a neutral site, this matchup is pretty much a tossup. Luckily its in Ann Arbor. If Michigan can keep Keshawn Martin from breaking a long return and is at least even in turnovers I would feel really good about the chances.
Michigan 35 Michigan St 32
Elsewhere in the Big Ten:
Northwestern 27 Purdue 20 – Northwestern continues to be college football’s worst undefeated team
Ohio St 40 Indiana 21 – Chappell has a bunch of yards but also throws a couple picks while Ohio St runs all over Indiana
Penn St 13 Illinois 10 – Basically a repeat of every game Penn St has played this year
Wisconsin 31 Minnesota 24 – Going with my numbers. I think they are underrating Wisconsin but I still think they are overrated overall.
I guess I’ll pick the Bama game again since Game Day dissed Ann Arbor for them this week.
Alabama 24 South Carolina 20 – A virtual mirror of the Alabama/Arkansas game.
It is a statement perpetuated on many outside of Wolverine-fandom in response to the 2010 start, and the deep dark fear inside the hearts of many Michigan fans: This year isn’t going to end up like last year, is it?
The argument for "Yes" usually boils down to the only teams Michigan has beat this year are the same ones they did last year (more or less) before the fallout, oh and because after five games we had a hyped young quarterback last year as well. The response from Michigan fans is subsequently, "Yeah, but Denard!!!"
Until we play a few more games and win one that we didn’t last year, we’re stuck answering the question in purely philosophical form. And who is better at throwing some numbers out there and seeing what sticks than The Mathlete?
Here is the normal disclaimer/overview of what I do for the uninformed:
All numbers included in this article are using my PAN metric: Points Above Normal. PAN is essentially how many points above an average FBS team was a team/unit/player worth. For reference, an average FBS team is approximately equal to Illinois or a top team from the MAC.
All games against FCS teams are excluded, as well as any plays in the second half where one team leads by more than 2 touchdowns or any end-of-half, run-out-the-clock drives.
For this particular exercise I will look at this year’s performance-to-date through two different lenses: 1) raw performance with no adjustment for opponent and 2) an opponent-adjusted view using how that opponent has performed this year to date. Normally I would forgo the unadjusted view to do a comparison but it is still early enough in the season that both views can provide perspective.
The Matchup: Offense
Let me just kill the suspense right now: this offense is better than last year’s. Shocking, I know. Through four FBS games this year, Michigan is averaging an unadjusted +23 PAN per game, +13 rushing and +10 passing. In the four FBS games Michigan won last year, Michigan was +12 overall, +8 rushing and +4 passing, and it’s pretty safe to say that UConn is a solid step up from Western Michigan and BG is probably a slight step up from Eastern.
To put more focus on the magnitude of this season's success, look at last week against Indiana, where the Michigan offense posted a +33 on only 44 plays. The 0.75 points per play is higher (by 10%!) than any other performance in my database, which stretches back to 2003. In fact, Indiana, Bowling Green and UConn are the three highest-rated offensive performances from Michigan I have on record. Western and Eastern Michigan were the only games last year that ranked higher than any game this year (Notre Dame is behind them).
Although impressive under any circumstances, those numbers were all without adjustment for the respective strengths of opponents' defenses. When you look at how Michigan’s performance compares with other offenses that ND, BG, Indiana and Uconn have faced this year, Michigan still comes out pretty well. All four games are at least +6 PAN and the average is +15, with +8 coming on the ground and +7 coming through the air. Last year in the comparable games, Michigan was +8 with +3 coming on the ground and +5 through the air.
Based on the sets of numbers, Michigan initially has been 7 to 11 points-per-game better than year’s offensive unit. This represents a very high level of play.
The Matchup: Defense
Unadjusted, Michigan has allowed +9 PAN per game this season. Almost all the damage has come through the air, and almost all of that was against Indiana. Excluding the Indiana game, the number was +6, with the damage split almost evenly between rush and pass defense. The Hoosiers' performance was +17 PAN with –5 on the ground and +22 through the air. This pushes the overall numbers to +9 with +8 coming through the air.
In the same games last year, Michigan’s defense was much more effective. Through four games, the defense held opponents to –7 PAN and was –6 against the pass. The defense moved to the middle through the rest of the season, finishing –2 PAN on the year, with –1 apiece coming on the ground and in the air.
How you evaluate this year really depends on good you think Indiana’s offense is going to be. If they continue to have success in Big 10 play, Michigan’s defensive prospects could be trending to on-par or slightly better than last year. If you think the Chappellbomb will be a dud against the rest of the Big 10, then last year’s performance is probably a best-case scenario.
One thing to consider about this defense is that its traditional stats are going to look bad no matter what. Based on the pace and success on the offensive side of the ball, Michigan is going to face more aggressive versions of their opponents, and they are going to face them on more drives, especially if the offense keeps scoring within the first minute of touching the ball. Everything you see from me will be adjusted to account for the pace. Remember: just because we gave up a ton of yards, it doesn’t mean that we had a bad day.
I am giving the defense an incomplete so far. Until we see how we fare against MSU and how Indiana does against Ohio State, the verdict is still out. If the defense can hold serve occasionally against Sparty, and Indiana can find some success against the Buckeyes, then the defense should at least be good enough to let us stretch a lead in a few games. If MSU torches us and Ohio St shuts down Chappell and Doss, we could be in for a full season of excruciatingly exciting games.
Our health, especially at key offensive positions, remains good.
The offense remains highly potent against the top tier Big 10 defenses.
The Indiana game was more of a reflection on Indiana’s great passing attack, and not our poor pass defense.
Although it doesn’t look like the defense has progressed like we had hoped (or maybe at all), the dilithium-powered offensive quantum leap has moved this team well beyond last year’s. There are still plenty of question marks out there, but it looks like until we face Ohio State’s defense to end the regular season, a Denard-led offense should be the best unit on the field. That fact alone should make a 2009 like swoon all but impossible. How much better is a question of defensive progress and Denard’s ability to shine as the defenses get better.
[Ed.: Bump. This makes sense to me: Michigan should mostly dump special teams once it gets across midfield.]
As Brian highlighted in the UMass round-up, maybe forgoing the punt altogether might not be such a bad decision. He noted my earlier look at the the topic and I wanted to pull it back and revisit and refine some of the work.
I looked at the years 2004-2009 and only looked at the top 20 rated offenses for each year. This study assumes that Michigan’s offense this year will be at a top 20 caliber and provides a broad enough definition of greatness that there is a good sample size. I did not distinguish what type of offense (Texas Tech Air Raid vs Georgia Tech triple option vs spread and shred) was used to get into the top 20. I will detail more assumptions as they are applicable along the way. In place of fourth down conversion percentages I used third down conversion percentage since the data pool is much larger and covers a wider variety of opponent levels. Since the thought process on a third down and fourth downs are roughly the same in most all (for now, anyway) situations, it seems reasonable to use the third down numbers.
Time for a you know what…
Assumptions: Top 20 offense, average defense, average punt game, average field goal kicker.
Based on these assumptions, except for long yardage, the punter should grab a seat once the offense crosses midfield. On your own side of the field the decision still makes sense starting around the 30 for shorter yardage situations and becomes more viable for longer yardage as you cross further down the field. Field goals become practical with 4+ yards to gain and only from about the 5-25 yard lines.
There are two big advantages a potent offense has that make 4th down tries more logical. The first is that they have more to gain by success. With a limited number of drives in a given game, why give them away for free? The second is that they are more likely to make them. Good offenses are more likely to be in better position on fourth down and more likely to make it. Here is a chart of great offenses fourth down conversions compared with all offenses. The right hand column was the one used for the above chart.
|To Go||All Teams||Great Off|
It’s not a huge advantage on any one given down, but Top 20 offenses convert the same opportunities about 2-3 percentage points more often than the average offense. Note: the rate of conversion for great offenses was much higher in the original analysis and is part of the reason the chart isn’t quite as go for it as the original.
But we don’t have an average <blank>
<blank> = Kicker
Let’s start with the kicking game, which is currently 5 points below average on the season and rated third worst in the country after the first three weeks.
Assumptions: Top 20 offense, average defense, average punt game, below average field goal kicker (FG make odds are reduced by 25% everywhere on the field).
The decisions near midfield obviously aren’t changed but now attempting a field goal on 4th and 5-9 from inside the 25 is no longer the most valuable option.
<blank> = Punter
I know it hasn’t been the most Zoltanic of starts for Will Hagerup, but at this point if he can hold onto the snap, there is no point in adjusting him to below average, even if he isn’t an advantage at this point.
<blank> = Defense
This is the one that seems a bit counterintuitive and Brian and I disagree on. I say that the strength or weakness of your defense is irrelevant to your offensive decision on whether or not try a fourth down conversion. My belief that it is irrelevant is based on this chart.
Great defense obviously give up fewer points than bad defenses but the key point is that the difference between a great defense and a bad defense is consistent up and down the field. Giving the opponent a first down at midfield isn’t a guarantee of a touchdown even with a bad defense and isn’t a guarantee that pinning an opponent deep against a great defense will keep the other team off the board. In fact, the gap between the two is about .25 points per first and 10 all the way from the 1 to the 90. If this is true, then the ability of the defense is irrelevant to the offense’s decision to go for it. For that to be the case, there would have to be evidence that the difference between a good defense and a bad defense changes at different points on the field.
So what does all this mean
If Michigan can maintain their feverish offensive pace this year and fail to find an adequate kicker, I think their decision set in all but late game score specific situations should look something like this:
As I noted previously, if you buy into this mentality, it opens up another opportunity, changing your early down play calling. If your four down strategy has changed, so should your down by down playcalling. It may become more viable to risk a wasted down with deep ball knowing that you have an extra, or it might just make sense to keep the ball short in the air and on the ground knowing that over four plays instead of three the likelihood of getting the yardages greatly increases so play to have the shortest possible fourth down attempt if you don’t convert before that.
Pulling the content a little closer to home this week in an effort to keep a higher R squared value with the MGoBlog readers!
As always, this analysis only considers games between two D1 opponents and takes only plays during competitive game situations into account.
Not all great offenses are created equally
If we are going to know what it takes to become a great offense under Rich Rodriguez, we must first know what it will look like, because great offenses can take on many different appearances. Below is a play success distribution for my top rated offense last year (Georgia Tech, option baby), the top passing offense (Captain Leach Texas Tech) and a look at West Virginia from 2007, Rodriguez’s last year at the helm. I went ahead and threw in the BCS’s worst, Washington St, just for comparison.
The Paul Johnson option is working with big plays, rather they are taking out the bad plays. Over three-quarters of Georgia Tech’s plays go for positive yardage. This balances out no strong tendency towards big plays. The end result is old school football: lots of long drives and moving the chains.
At the Captain’s helm, Texas Tech had nearly a quarter of all of their plays go for no gain. As always, there are tradeoffs. For Tech they came in the form of the 10-20 yard gain.
Under Rodriguez, West Virginia saw something different than either of those two. Even with a run-pass split close to Georgia Tech, the distribution of the spread 'n' shred was much different than the Option. Where the Yellowjackets saw a heavy dose of positive but small gains, the Mountaineers had a solid lead in everything from 4-20 yards. The end results where similar with both teams producing touchdown drives with regularity, but the path was much longer for Georgia Tech. West Virginia’s ability to get the somewhat big play allowed them to shorten drives, add possessions to the game and eliminate some of the variance through an increase in scoring chances.
How close are we?
As everyone knows, we are much closer coming in to this year than we were last year. Here is another chart to support that notion.
There are many charts to look at that show the dreadfulness of 2008, so we won’t dwell on that. What is becoming clear is that the shape of 2009 is becoming quite similar to West Virginia 2007. The big difference, and its a big one, is that Michigan still has a lot of plays going for no gain, where West Virginia was able to get 5+ yards out of those same plays.
If Michigan is going to mirror the West Virginia offensive success, it appears to have a made very clear first step last season.
How does this compare to previous years?
The biggest difference between the Carr era and the Rodriguez era in terms of yardage gained distribution is the passing game bump from the Carr era in the 10-20 yard gain range. The Rodriguez system is more geared towards to the 4-9 yard gains where the Carr offense excelled in the 0-3 and 10-20 yard ranges.
What does this mean for 2010?
The cliché: Take the Next Step.
It looks like framework of what Rodriguez wants to do is in place after two rough years, but the execution is still behind his days at West Virginia. The offensive line now has two years in the system and for the first time there is a quarterback (in fact two!) who have both experience and talent. As I noted in a previous diary, a jump from average in 2009 to good in 2010 is certainly a good possibility and with a break or two and improved quarterback play, it could go from average to great.
Hello everyone, Six Zero here with the latest installment of:
SIX QUESTIONS WITH MATHLETE
Inspired by the official site’s “Two Minute Drill” series and TomVH’s famous Q&A segments with potential recruits, this weekly feature highlights some of the more famous personalities here at MGoBlog. Without pulling back the infamous veil of blog anonymity, we’ll get to know some of your favorite posters better and possibly shed some light on their definition of why it’s so darn Great, To Be, A Michigan Wolverine.
Math. Nemesis to many, and friend to so very few. Some of us get it, and the rest of us use it only when we absolutely have to, like a plunger or Mucinex (ed: nasty stuff). When it comes to MGoBlog, we all know that the resident expert is Mathlete, who seemingly can use statistical information to prove everything from what players are more valuable than others to which Sparty player is most likely to next act with felonious intent. His posts are well-written, tirelessly researched, and busting
at the seams with factual analysis and conclusions. And yet, despite all that
number-crunching, he was still gracious enough to sit down with us
for this exclusive MGoProfile interview:
1. Mathlete, known far and wide as the only man capable of making numbers sing “Hail to the Victors.” Few login names fit their owners as well as yours. Were you, or are you, a competitive mathlete? Is there a story behind the selection of your name?
Growing up, my dad was a math teacher and a coach so I always had a strong mix of math and sports in my life. Sports were always the thing I wanted to be good at and wasn't, where academic competitions were the thing I was good at but mostly embarrassed of. When I first registered at mgoblog, I originally was going to pick an obscure reference from The Wire (Always, Boris) but at the last minute decided to embrace a more accurate name and attempt to embrace the title that had
created so much teenage angst.
Ahh, yes—surely the most famous type of angst has to be the teenage variety. And if it makes any difference, I think if you had any other login name it’d simply be wrong.
2. Your posts are legendary for their vast raw data, their accuracy, and their ability to recognize facts where others simply see coincidence. Do you live in a black-and-white world? How do you see life differently from others?
My interest in numbers actually has the opposite effect on me. We ultimately measure the results of things in black and white, but when I look forward, I am always viewing things in terms of probabilities. If the numbers say Michigan is better than their opponent, I don't see that as a guaranteed victory, I want to understand how much better Michigan is and what their probability of winning would be. I think is what separates me from most other people. Our brains our wired to eliminate complexity so often times we look at results and the then identify the reasons that the result had to have happened, when in reality, there were probabilities associated with a number of outcomes and a lot more luck and randomness than we are comfortable with contributed to the specific result. Over the long run, these variances will usually
cancel themselves out, but they can wreak havoc on smaller time frames.
3. Some of your pieces take significant amounts of time (not to mention brain power) just to read-- How long does it take to put together a solid, statistically accurate post from concept to completion?
That's a really tough one to answer because I often have a hard time focusing so it’s often done over multiple sessions. Usually I have a couple of ideas kicking around in my head and once I get one I think I can go with, I start writing. Usually as I start writing with one key chart, table of conclusion but as I go I get a clearer picture of the hard data that is going to be needed to build the case. Once I do get going it moves pretty quickly and I am terrible at proofreading my work, so once the last sentence is penned
I tend to just hit publish and live with dumb errors!
We’re all guilty of that. I’ve always been impressed not only by your talent for gathering and analyzing large amounts of information, but also your ability to present it in a way that the common reader can understand. Is that a challenge? Or, should I say, how much do you hold back to keep it accessible for the masses?
My goal is to provide something that is as accessible as traditional stats but more valuable. Sometimes it’s difficult to bring it around, but I am still approaching it all
as a football fan first.
4. Sports and statistics have always gone together like maize and blue. Why is that? Why do we, as fans, enjoy rattling off numbers as much as watching the games themselves?
The numbers help tell the story of what we just saw, they affirm and shape our feelings about our favorite players and teams, they expand the experience. They give us a connection to our teams in between games. Since I started doing The Mathlete work, one of my favorite times of the week is after all the games have been played and all the play by plays are available. Going through game by game and adding them into my database and then seeing what comes out. Whose performance was better than I thought and who seemed to do well but didn't show up in the numbers.
5. I’m going to go out on a limb and say that you work with numbers. But, without divulging too much information, can you describe what sort of field you’re involved in? And what do you like to do when you’re on your own time?
Believe it or not I do work with numbers for a living. For the most part I do demand planning and a production scheduling for a large corporation. In other words, I sold out to the man.
Most of my spare time is spent with my family. I have an 18 month old son who I am convinced is going to be the next Jake Long. Mrs. Mathlete isn't too keen on "offensive lineman" as my dream for our son, but she'll come around.
Aside from family, my life is generally sports related. Playing basketball, watching whatever sport is in season and thinking of new ways to analyze, predict or understand sports takes up enough of my time. I am working on getting a full-blown website up and running before football season starts so that I can make more information available but right now all I have is themathlete.com and absolutely no content.
Show your wife Jake Long's paycheck-- She'll come around. Describe the perfect meal.
My grandma used to make a dish called porkies. They had a ridiculous name and were never the most appetizing things to look at, but man were they good. How can you go wrong with what is essentially a giant meatball made of ham and sausage covered in a sauce that is 90% brown sugar. Add in some homemade mashed potatoes (no gravy) and you are likely to find me on the couch for the rest of the day watching football and regretting how much I ate while contemplating going back for more.
6. Can you explain why you are a Michigan fan?
I probably came by my Michigan fandom in a very different manner than most at MgoBlog. I grew up in Kansas with absolutely no connection to the state of Michigan. I think the only reason they came to be my favorite school is because growing up they were on TV more than anyone else other than Notre Dame and my dad hated the Irish, so I picked Michigan. The first time I remember cheering for them as "My Team" was in ‘91 with Desmond Howard. The next year saw the arrival of the Fab Five and I was hooked. I got accepted to Michigan for grad studies in Operations Research but a series of events led to it not happening. I am ashamed to admit I have never
attended a Michigan game live.
I was a fan for many years before finally making it out to my first game. I might argue that it meant more than a local’s first game, because of the pilgrimage, ‘Bucket List’-esque nature of the whole experience. When you do get up, it’ll be a life-changing trip. Finally, the staple last question-- who's your all-time favorite Wolverine?
It's not technically a player, but it would have to be the Fab Five. I had the book, I had a drawer full of the hideous black Nike socks, it didn't get any cooler than the Fab Five. My favorite Wolverine football player is probably Braylon Edwards if for no other reason than the damage I could do with him on NCAA Football.
Being a creative person both by profession and personality, I deal with abstract thoughts and ideas. My boundaries are only defined by the limits of imagination, and my work is grounded more by production details and budget than logic or validity. Perhaps that’s why I’m so fascinated by the results of Mathlete, and others like him who pour over numerical information to find the truth. Statistics are just raw data. It takes someone with a specific process of thought to manifest those numbers into concrete information that can prove one argument or disprove another. I, or anyone, can make ridiculous claims about a football team without any degree of accountability —the entire field of sports radio is built on this convenient truth— but a guy like Mathlete can take a box score and, with a fair degree of research, a certain level of intelligence, and a little bit of math, turn that raw information into indisputable fact. Unlike politicians, New Jersey women, and Michael Rosenberg… numbers do not lie.
See you guys next week for another edition of MGoProfile!
[Ed: meant to bump this sooner but there was a lot of stuff yesterday.]
After the disastrous offensive performance of 2008, the 2009 Wolverine offense really had nowhere to go but up. Using my offensive ratings, the 2008 Michigan offense was 7.4 points per game below average, 107th out of 120 FBS teams. 2009 brought another year in the system and real quarterbacks and huge improvements. While far from consistently excellent, Michigan moved up to a modest 1.2 points per game above average, 50th nationally. No one outside of the eternal optimists like Fred Jackson could see another 57 place ranking improvement, but what has happened to teams that have shown big offensive improvements in year in the following year.
Presently my database has the 2007-2009 years completed, just enough for a 3 year case study. From 2007 to 2008 there were 28 teams that improved offensively by at least 5 points per game. I broke those team into three categories, teams that saw a second major (+5) increase in the third year, teams that saw a major (-5) regression back in the third year and teams that were in the middle and didn’t necessarily continue gaining, but didn’t fall back much either.
*Only BCS teams shown
With 14 of the 28 teams in this group, half of the teams that show big gains can expect a return to the mean the next season. In fact, these teams were worse offensively in 2009 than they were in 2007, let alone the beacon season of 2008. The average team in this group was 2.5 points per game worse in 2009 than they were in 2007 before they peaked.
The closest thing to a consistent thread is the quarterback possession as five of the eight, Oklahoma, Baylor, USC, Arizona and Utah, spent most or all of the season with a new quarterback.
In general, the regressers look like a group that is just regressing to the mean and that replacing a quarterback is damaging when your success has not been sustained for longer than a single season.
With the exception of Alabama, these teams were pretty average in returning starts and had no major position group gaps to fill. Alabama had a new quarterback and was 97th in returning offensive starts nationally, the ability to sustain the offensive success is likely attributable to the influx of talent Saban brought into Alabama since he arrived.
*Michigan 2007 results omitted (-1.1)
With a relatively new coach and a total offensive system overhaul, Georgia Tech is clearly the most similar situation to Michigan and their path is one that Michigan would be thrilled to follow. Tech went from –1.1 ppg in 2007 to 7.6 in 2008 to 14.5 and my top rated offense in the country in 2009. Even though Johnson and Rodriguez were hired the same year, the Michigan offense is about 2 years behind Georgia Tech. Georgia Tech went from average to very good to best in the country. Michigan went from average, to very bad and back to average. Even with the offset timeline, Michigan seems comparable to Georgia Tech’s situation and therefore a second year of offensive gain seems very possible under this comparison.
All five of these teams either returned 20+ starts at the quarterback position (except GT who had the same quarterback from the start of the system), although Stanford’s returning quarterback was replaced. The other major similarity between these schools in neither of the last two years did they have stratospheric gains, there is less flukiness to these teams success.
When looking at the progression from very bad to roughly average, there are four BCS level schools who showed that same progression. Three of those (TCU, Notre Dame and Pittsburgh went on to see big gains in year 3 as well, and NC St still saw modest improvement. Teams fitting this profile for a potential second year of strong offensive progress in 2010 along with Michigan include Kentucky, UConn, Wake Forest and Mississippi St.
Although teams that show a big jump like Michigan last year are more likely to fall back than continue the progress, the recruiting profile, experience at quarterback (even if the returner loses his job), progressions comps and system change all point to Michigan as being a good candidate to at least sustain and probably show more improvement next year. Every 3 point gain is worth about one additional win on the season and based on this look I would say that from the offense alone, a 3 point gain seems likely and a 6 point gain entirely possible.