I thought that myself when I read that article that talked about a Data Scientist(tm)
The most irritating refrain I hear constantly on this board is that ESPN does horrible recruiting rankings. As I have maintained time and again, that just simply isn't the case. There are objective ways you can evaluate the accuracy of the various sites' player evaluations (all-conference, NFL draft position, etc.). Those analyses are useful but I think the most in-depth way I can look at rankings is to study, in retrospect, the evaluations of players with which I am very familiar. Under that theory, below I am going to provide data on the evaluation of Michigan players from the classes of 2009 and 2008. Why 2008 and 2009? In most cases enough time has passed that you can make a judgment about how good a player turned out to be. I think this data shows that ESPN does often zig when Rivals/Scout zag, but ESPN is hardly inferior to the other two.
I am going to present tables that show the rankings for the 2009 recruiting class broken down two ways.
First, star rating and position rating. With regard to "star rating": for Rivals, I am using the more detailed point system, and for ESPN the more detailed numerical rating. For positional ranking, note that Rivals breaks out players into more categories so sometimes their ranking will look lower as a number.
|2009||Rivals||Scout||ESPN||Rivals (pos)||Scout (pos)||ESPN (pos)|
Second, overall ranking (complication here is Rivals goes to 250, Scout to 300, and ESPN only to 150 -- so a guy that doesn't make ESPN's list could be #151...that is why I included the above data too):
|2009||Rivals 250||Scout 300||ESPN 150|
FYI: for that set I only included the guys who made the "top whatever" list for one of the three sites.
Takeaways from 2009
- ESPN - Will Campbell (he was a top 40 overall to the others, a good-not-great player to ESPN)
- ESPN - Justin Turner (same deal)
- Scout - Vlad Emilien (Rivals and ESPN thought he was a top 20-ish DB -- Scout was far more bearish)
- Scout - Isaiah Bell (had him a sane 46 at his position, rather than 26 (rivals) or 11 (ESPN))
Could also make an argument for: ESPN - Denard (101 overall vs. 159 and 188); Scout -J. Stokes (had him too high at 169 overall, but much better than Rivals (104) and ESPN (67); ESPN - Lewan (148 overall vs. 194 and 274); Scout - Q. Washington (had him 19 at his position, while the others overrated at 8 and 6).
- ESPN - Q. Washington (had him 81 overall - not a top 100 player)
- ESPN - I. Bell (had him 94 overall - way off)
- Scout - Fitz Toussaint (had him too low at #49 back -- jury is still out on whethe Rivals (#8) or ESPN (#28) had him pegged best, but as an optimist I would say it may be Rivals)
- Rivals - Mike Jones (had him #25 at his position -- other sites much better ranking him 49 and 54)
Could also make an argument for: ESPN - Stokes (had him #67 overall compared to #104 or #169 -- didn't include above only because position rankings are pretty close across the sites (14-17-8); Scout - LaLota (had him #116 overall which was less off-base than Rivals (#215) and ESPN (something above 150), but again positional rankings pretty close); Scout - Lewan (had him #274 when the other sites were much better at 194 (rivals) and 148 (ESPN).
There are many other conclusions you could draw from this data, and those conclusions will depend greatly on your opinion of a particular player. For example, Rivals was much higher on Gallon. But I'm not sure yet who was right or wrong -- depends what you think of Gallon.
But based on my own analysis ESPN and Scout did pretty well this year. Rivals not so much.
On to 2008...
|2008||Rivals||Scout||ESPN||Rivals (pos)||Scout (pos)||ESPN (pos)|
I have put emphasis on the obvious outliers above. Sadly, the way a site looked smart this year was to doubt one of our recruits.
Takeaways from 2008
- ESPN - Cissoko (others had him a top 5 CB...not so much)
- ESPN - Mike Shaw (hurts to say, but I think they were right)
- ESPN - Brandon Smith (elite to Rivals and Scout, ESPN had it right)
- Scout - Ricky Barnum (I love Barnum but Scout had a more realistic take on him)
- ESPN - Taylor Hill (see Smith, Cissoko)
(I am skipping McGuffie and Mealer because I think both ran into some horrible luck and may have turned out differently if that was not the case -- but based on an objective look at production ESPN had them right too)
- Scout - Brandon Moore (Still hoping Scout is proven wrong, but....looks they were right and Rivals and ESPN were wrong to call him a positional top 10)
- Rivals - Roy Roundtree (Finally Rivals gets one! They had Roundtree much higher than the others (#44 WR vs. 89 or 104)
- Rivals - Kurt Wermers (another case of Rivals getting it right; Scout's #11 positional ranking looks especially bad here)
- ESPN - Dann O'Neill (I am faulting ESPN here for pegging O'Neill as a super-duper star (#4 OT); the others thought he was good, but not that good)
- ESPN - Kevin Koger (he may not have produced like a #4 or #6 TE, but I think Scout and Rivals were much closer to the mark than ESPN who had him as the #113 DE)
- Rivals - Mike Shaw (talented guy, but not a #7 back)
ESPN has the biggest hits and misses here, but I think overall does the best in 2008. Scout comes in second. Rivals last again.
The track record from these two classes does not support the notion that ESPN is out to lunch or does not know what they're talking about. Personally? I think they're wrong about Pipkins. But I can't say that ESPN's track record shows I can discount their view.
By my count, here is the tally on major outlier picks that seem to have a definitive right/wrong result from 2008 and 2009:
ESPN: +6, -4 (net 2)
Scout: +4, -1 (net 3)
Rivals: +2, -2 (net 0)
Obviously my quantitative measures are subjective; I offer this as food for thought. Please discuss and improve on what I did here. But let's not dismiss sites out of hand. As the above shows, there is no basis for that. Certainly not with respect to ESPN.
But second, let me ask: when was the last time you watched a Michigan athlete dance and swagger around like a trash-talking clown because he was soaring on the knowledge that he was athletically superior to everyone else in the game? Not dance and swagger on occasion, but as a state of being. A player that was constantly feeding off the rush of his own talent, employing his physical tools wildly, freely and playfully, like an excited kid just given the controls of a fighter jet.
We have had superior athletes. We have had superior athletes with plenty of charisma. But we have not really had what I described above since the Fab Five. We have not seen it since Webber, but especially Jalen. Watching them was one of the most exhilarating (if sometimes maddening) experiences of my life.
Now third, watch this film immediately:
If you judge only on these few plays, a few things seem clear:
1. Dorsey will not be instructing our team on tackling fundamentals
2. Dorsey was the fastest player on the field in the UA game
3. Dorsey thought he was the best athlete on that field
4. He could hardly stop dancing around like a fool because of points 2 and 3
Where do I stand on all this? I will make my feelings plain. I like it. After years of tight, "dear God don't go the wrong direction" play at safety I am ready for an insanely gifted trash-talking kid who plays a reckless but decisive centerfield and then flaps his arms like a bird. I want that guy at the back of my defense. I want to see his winged helmet come flying into the viewable screen in a blur after starting the play 15+ yards deep.
I do not want him at corner. I want a Fab Five free safety. In 2010. Too much to ask?
Answer: it means you are a college football team other than USC.
Let's put one particular stat to rest, or at least in perspective--any team or conference's recent record against USC.
USC OOC - 2003-2009
Here is how USC has fared against out-of-conference opponents in recent years.
Auburn - BYU - Hawaii - Notre Dame - Michigan
V. Tech - Colorado St. - BYU - Notre Dame - Oklahoma
Hawaii - Arkansas - Notre Dame - Fresno State
Arkansas - Nebraska - Notre Dame - Michigan
Idaho - Nebraska - Notre Dame - Illinois
Virginia - Ohio State - Notre Dame - Penn State
San Jose State - Ohio State
Overall record: 28-1
Big Ten: 0-6
Big 12: 1-3
Lessons to be drawn from a 3.6% winning percentage (not many)
The Big Ten (and ND) is the worst. The reason? We have played them more. If some other team or conference was taking every other game--or even one in three--from USC, then maybe I would do some soul searching upon losing to them. But other than the game of Vince Young's life, they have not lost to any team from another conference since 2002.
As much as Michigan fans may enjoy hearing some loud, overly-decisive talking head blather about how USC owns Ohio State or Notre Dame, remember that the same is true for us. And further, for everyone. So I think we should hold off on declaring OSU less-than-stellar, Pryor a bust, etc. The pundits, as always, are over-punditing. Losing to USC does not mean OSU is not very good, or that the Big 10 is weak. It means they played USC during Pete Carrol's reign of NCAA terror.
Weis' halftime speech
He told his guys their mistakes were the only reason they had not already put the game away. That is not a 100% unreasonable assessment of the first half, but...functionally stupid. You hear that, you think, "it's true, we're a lot better. We'll pull away easily once the penalties stop." What Notre Dame needed to hear was something to keep the fire there. Something like "we're only up 3--this is their stadium and to leave with with a win we will have to wrench it from them with the fight of our lives." ND could not have looked more listless on our opening 3rd quarter drives. There was no fire; it was like they did think the game was easily in hand, and the scoreboard would inevitably catch up to reflect the superior play. Instead things changed in the 3rd quarter. We started to outplay them.
What an underrated kid. And to begin with an aside, one of my favorite Mgoblog diaries ever was the one a few weeks back where someone broke down the joy of watching Odoms block out in front of a long run in the game at Minnesota. Great insight, great story, so true. It made me appreciate his Denard block that much more the following week...Well if you watch the Stonum kick return TD you will see that for the second straight week our longest big play run was sprung by a monster block from tiny Martavious. There was a guy in Stonum’s lane. Odoms--the other returner back deep--kept his eyes fixed, timed his break perfectly, and hurled his whole body into him. He was frozen in place. Stonum was past them both, made the one cut he needed, and ran free. Great block, good fundamentals, huge heart. Is he not Wermers' type of crowd? Who would not want to play next to a guy with that kind of enthusiasm and selfless guts. He is a less featured player this year, but you don't see him Clemonsing on us, and I don't expect he ever will. He doesn't block like a guy that would mope. I love that kid.
He also made two huge catches in the final drive. Forgotten now, he made a ridiculous grab with a man draped all over his back on a critical 3rd down. [EDIT: multiple posters have already pointed out the same stuff for Odoms--apparently he is not forgotten; good for our fans].
Nice to see him have a great game at Michigan. He made a huge catch down the sideline when it was 0-0, and provided the perfect bookend with the decisive TD. That dig route was a thing of glory. Route running matters. So does a QB with accuracy and timing. That play looked easier than it was.
Ouch. Honest appraisal demands at least one negative observation. I don’t want to be mean, so I will not go into details, but wow. If you ranked all Big 10 linebackers on a two factor scoring system of (1) decisiveness and (2) ability to not get washed out of an interior run play...he would not torch the competition. If you want a microcosm of Ezeh's performance, locate him on the final ND touchdown run. Suffice to say that is not where you want to find your inside LB on a power running play.
Cissoko (& rest of D)
On the more-maligned Cissoko: I have more sympathy for him. He was playing NFL talent, injured, in one of his first career starts. Yes he was beat several times. But he continued to stay fierce and confident even when the action on the field made this seem mildly irrational. That is a good thing...On the rest of the defense I have no major comments. The pass rush was poor, but the holding was ubiquitous. The pass yards were high, but the receivers were other-wordly. I thought Warren was excellent. I am not going to fault him for standing in the same vicinity when Floyd finally landed after catching a ball 10 feet up in the air...I am glad Stevie Brown once again made a big play. I am almost starting to feel guilty for blaming him for everything that when wrong in my life in 2008...and who was that safety?? I am glad that at least he knew he was on the team, so he knew to show up beforehand and put on a jersey and everything.
Charlie's decision to pass
I do not like Weis. His next-day whining is just the latest example of everything wrong about him--not a winner, not a leader, self-indulgent, doesn't think ahead, name drops Tom Brady when his name should be kept holy and sacred, etc. I do not like the guy. But I don’t think the late-game passes were as dumb as everyone now says (with the benefit of hindsight and their spectacular failure). In that moment, with ND having a chance to win the game with a first down or two, and our secondary having been abused the way it had...are you really telling me you weren’t praying for 1 yard runs up the gut? That you weren’t terrified when Clausen launched one deep? The stadium held its breath, and not in a 'something great's about to happen' kind of way. It was a 'dear god no' kind of anticipatory silence. You want to make plays that make your opponents feel that way.
Based on the way that game was going, I do not blame Weis for wanting to try to win with the ball, rather punting away and pinning his hopes on stopping a pretty-good offense using 4 downs with nothing to lose. I would want my coach to do the same. As for the type of pass, Brian makes a great point, it may not have been wise. But the other way to look at the lobbed fly pattern is that while calling any pass was aggressive, calling that particular one was relatively conservative. There was no time in the pocket, no risk of a sack/fumble. High likelihood of a catch or interference call. On that first pass Warren just made an outstanding play. On the second, Evans just wasn’t looking for the ball. If Floyd was was still in that 3rd down pass may have sealed the game. And just like that Weis is a genius--blah blah blah, say the pundits, he didn't sit back, he played to win, trusted his guys, etc. You see my point. Throwing was not stupid strategy in my opinion. Although I think a play-action pass to Rudolph would have been a surefire death nail. Thank god he didn’t call one.
There is not much for me to add. We all saw the same things. What a joy to watch someone who can (1) see our open guys and (2) get them the ball. What a strange sensation to watch a QB in a winged helmet drop back, see the pocket collapse, see him sprint for his life, and be envisioning anything other than impending doom. By the final drive, the blitz was breaking through our line and I was having what must have been the same internal reaction as Tate--no big deal, is somebody open downfield? I have watched several QBs that could scamper away from a pass rush and keep scanning downfield. I’ve never had the pleasure of cheering for one. It is great.
As terrific as Tate was, Minor and Graham remain our proverbial Peters. Upon those rocks we will build our football team. Graham, unfortunately, was swallowed up by the jersey seizing spiderweb of ND behemoths all day--tough labor for him. Minor, though, was able to break through. No one thinks he was 100% healthy. But who could tell he wasn’t when he had the ball on Saturday? He started each half with powerful, assertive runs that exploded into the ND backfield. He got us rolling, gave us confidence. Gave us a lead at the start of each half. Matthews got to celebrate the game winner. Stonum got conference accolades. Tate has enjoyed a season’s worth of press adoration the last 48 hours. Minor did his work quietly, particularly in light of all of the wildness that came after he made his strongest contributions. But he was huge. Passing picked up in the second half after our running game finally began to look threatening at its beginning. Minor did that. Great game from a big-hearted player.
I won't lie--I really like the guys on this team.
Huge Mega Scandal Possibly Worthy of Probation and/or Pullitzer Prize Uncovered at Michigan
The University of Michigan football team breaks the rules. All the time. Systematically. We talked to several, anonymous current and former players from the 2008 and 2009 UM teams and learned that they work out really hard, that voluntary workouts are “voluntary” workouts, and that they spend much longer than 4 hours a day or 20 hours a week on football-related activities. In short, we confirmed that they are, in fact, a competitive D-I program.
Further sleuthing, combined with our misunderstanding of “non-countable” activities, reveals that, based on our math (and misunderstanding of how the NCAA computes practice time) when the players say “we work out all the time,” they are in essence saying “our coaches break NCAA rules all the time.” Because we have added up the hours, and they are spending too many. Especially if you do not comprehend “non-countable” activities, which we do not. And why would we? If interpreting the NCAA rulebook for laymen (not to mention ourselves) would get us ESPN-level exposure, we would have done that. But it doesn't, so we didn't.
What we did do is contact some former players and tell them that while they were at Michigan they actually were only allowed to be spending 20 hours a week. When we hit them with this mind-bending knowledge (not explaining what counts toward those 20 hours since we ourselves did not understand) they were stunned, and said: “whoa man, we were spending much more than that.” And we will translate that for you; what they meant was, “Rodriguez has systematically broken NCAA rules for as long as he has been alive.”
Were we aware that we could monitor the doors of any D-I practice facility within the Milky Way for any one full day and immediately realize D-I football players participate in team activities for much more than four hours a day since that maximum of four hours does not pertain to voluntary workouts, meals, film, rehab, etc? No. We were not. Is that true? Oh. Well either (a) doesn’t matter or (b) please see our forthcoming article, “Every College Systematically Breaking NCAA Rules At All Times; Rules That Were Designed to Protect Players.”
In fact, it seems we are planning to either (a) move DEs to DT from among our current players, or (b) only use one traditional DT at most times. One cannot be sure--it is not that we don't have the bodies to play a pair of DTs with backups. However, if we expect to be playing two DTs with sufficient backups--comprised of players recruited as high school DTs--our numbers would seem low and our recruiting at the position more lackadaisical than one would expect from this otherwise highly motivated staff.
As a case study, it is interesting to observe the recruitment of Hankins and Talbott. Hankins (Scout: 28 DT, Rivals: 5.5, ESPN: 77) is higher rated than Talbott (Scout: 50 DT, Rivals 5.5, ESPN: 73). More importantly for the MSU-insecure among us, he hails from within the borders of Michigan. But we were not crazy about Hankins. We are pursuing Talbott. The difference?
The most immediate one is body type. Talbott has tall, rangy, DE build. As ESPN begins, and ends, its assessment:
Talbott plays a little out of position in high school as a defensive tackle. In college he could be looking at a move to defensive end...a bit of 'tweener position wise right now.
Indeed. He looks like a DE. But we are recruiting him to play on the inside. I think what DT recruiting this year suggests is we no longer are shopping for Terrance Taylors, i.e. stout 4* gap-stuffing fire hydrants. Or jelly roll behemoths. We will take an athletic behemoth like Will Campbell (or any 5* in our backyard, probably), but on the inside now we want guys who are fast and active. I like this approach.
It is interesting to observe that many pundits have deep doubts about the ability of Michigan's speed defense approach to withstand the power running teams of the Big Ten (nevermind the parallel stories on how the whole league has gone to the spread). I agree it will be interesting, but I have more confidence than most. If teams truly are gashing us within the tackles we can always send more bodies crashing into the box. At least we can do that more easily than scattering our stout bodies across a wide field to cover spread sets (see Ohio State 2006, App St./Oregon 2007, etc.)
Terry Talbott is not a win in the recruiting war in terms of quantified ratings, but I think he is a terrific fit for a scheme that can be implemented to terrorize opposing offenses from sideline to sideline. I am voting "yes" for Terry. I hope you will too.