further adventures in Jed York being unsuited for his position
Eye of the Tiger
I've now done three (one, two, three) CC candidate roundups. In each, I profiled 4 legitimate and 1 not-so-legitimate candidates. Now I rank the 12 legitimate ones according to how desirable a candidate they are, but with close calls determined by plausibility. (As you'll notice, some candidates are more plausible than others.) In other words, if I were Hackett, I'd just go down this list--maybe skipping the pipe dreams, but more likely just putting out feelers and politely backing off if the answer is "thanks but no thanks."
So what makes an ideal coaching candidate for Michigan in 2015? The demonstrated ability to coach + the demonstrated ability to win QUICKLY with a roster like ours + the likely ability to manage the uniquenesses of a "blue blood" program and its vested interests. That last bit really shouldn't matter as much as it does, but it undoubtedly does. And not just at Michigan: at Notre Dame, Texas, Oklahoma, Nebraska, Alabama, USC and Tenessee too. Programs that feel the weight of history require coaches who can not only win but simultaneously embody and transcend tradition. Bo would be a perfect example, but there are others from more recent history, coaches who took the reins of once mighty "blue bloods" fallen on hard times and brought them back to glory. Bob Stoops, Pete Carroll, etc.
The Michigan job is further complicated by the fact that, like Notre Dame, we pride ourselves on academics and high integrity. Ideally we do not want to cut corners in our push (back) to the top. This is admirable, but it does make the job of finding the right person harder, as some of the best coaches out there are inveterate corner cutters. A Bob Stoops still makes the cut, but Pete Carroll? Not sure.
But enough about all that. Here's my ranked list of previously profiled CC candidates:
1. Jim Harbaugh
CASE: Harbaugh is the best available coach (to the unknowable degree that he is available) and the candidate who best “gets” what makes Michigan unique and special. Also shares Schlissel’s views on the academics/athletics balance.
LIKELIHOOD HE COMES IF OFFERED: 40%. It’s possible, maybe even more than possible, but he’s also going to have NFL options, and coaches with NFL options don’t often switch to college.
2. Gary Patterson
CASE: The best not available coach who's name nevertheless keeps coming up in every CC discussion at every major school. Patterson's long-term success at TCU speaks for itself—there’s a reason, after all, why his name keeps coming up. Unfortunately, it may not be worth the bandwidth to email an offer, because he’s not coming.
LIKELIHOOD HE COMES IF OFFERED: 1%. Anything's possible, but some things are so implausible that they might as well not be. In other words, he’s not coming.
3. John Harbaugh
CASE: Like little brother Jim, but less abrasive. Has won Super Bowl and grew up in Ann Arbor. Good NFL coaches (hell, even pretty good NFL coaches) tend to do well in college.
LIKELIHOOD HE COMES IF OFFERED: 10%. A neat idea, but hard to see “John Harbaugh, Michigan Football Coach” becoming reality. After all, unlike little brother Jim, he’s not being pushed out of his NFL gig for clash-of-personality reasons.
4. Les Miles
CASE: Big-time winner at LSU, and clearly a very good football coach. Former letterman and assistant coach under Bo too. Also the guy we maybe should have hired in 2007. However, is on the old side now and hiring Miles might exacerbate rather than heal our factional wounds.
LIKELIHOOD HE COMES IF OFFERED: 99%. He’s been non-obliquely hinting at it lately, and straight up told John U. Bacon in Three and Out that he was ready in 2007. If we want him, he’s coming.
5. Bret Bielema
CASE: Like most people, I thought this was crazytalk the first time I encountered it. But the more I think about it, the more sense it makes. Would be able to take this roster and make it competitive right away. And as has been said, Bielema wins with a brand of football that roughly corresponds to what Hoke and Brandon wanted to re-establish but couldn't. On the other hand, his teams at Wisconsin were mostly of the “almost-but-not-quite-great” variety. That sounds pretty good from where we are right now, but could wear thin after some time.
LIKELIHOOD THAT HE’D COME IF OFFERED: 33%. There is a solid speculative case for why he’d be interested, but it’s airy speculation (i.e. there are no sources or rumors, just logic). Astronomical buyout might render this dead in the water.
6. Dan Mullen
CASE: Has won more games at Mississippi State than previously thought possible. Is also a disciple of Urban Meyer, who wins a lot of games for our rival school. That said, he hasn’t really won that much at Mississippi State, (it took Mullen 6 years to reach 10 wins), and may favor recruiting practices we'd prefer to avoid.
LIKELIHOOD THAT HE’D COME IF OFFERED: 33%. He’s got to realize that his stock will never be higher, and at the least, should use that to renegotiate his current contract. But may be comfortable where he is, or at least in the SEC. You'd think Florida was a sure thing, but apparently it's not. May wait to see if the LSU job opens.
7. Todd Graham
CASE: Wins a lot. Runs modern offense, but is a defensive guy. Modern offense plus good defense = WANT. At the same time, “cultural fit” might be an issue here (or not). Also, Graham is pretty mercenary in his approach to jobs, and would easily bolt after one year if he felt it was in his interests to do so.
LIKELIHOOD THAT HE’D COME IF OFFERED: 20%. He’s a good coach and would probably be interested in any gig that pays more/has a bigger spotlight, but Graham-to-Michigan doesn’t seem like an intuitive match for either party--especially after his old boss' bad experience here.
8. Jim McElwain
CASE: Like Nussmeier but with experience/success as a head coach. Like Bielema, could plausibly take what we have and make it work. But also not a thrilling (potential) hire.
LIKELIHOOD THAT HE’D COME IF OFFERED:
50% 20%. McElwain will have options, but Michigan (and the salary we could pay) would be at or near the top something he'd look at. Would we offer? Depends on that $7.5m buyout. Also rumored to be a he appears to be the top Florida target.
9. Tom Herman
CASE: Really good OC at Ohio State. Urban Meyer coaching tree. Can recruit Ohio! However, lack of experience as HC means on-the-job learning, and we’re probably not in the mood for more of that.
LIKELIHOOD THAT HE’D COME IF OFFERED: 80%. I’d put it higher, but there’s always the chance he wouldn’t want to face his mentor every year in THE rivalry game. Or maybe that’s not an issue? In any event, I see him moving to a Tulsa or Cincinnati before making the big jump. But of all the coordinator-level candidates, Herman is the one I have the most faith in.
10. Paul Chryst
CASE: A low-transition-cost, ultra-safe idea. Who knows--could be a Dantonio-type? May, however, be another Hoke.
LIKELIHOOD THAT HE’D COME IF OFFERED: 99%. Can’t see him saying no. We’re pretty far down the list if we’re offering, though.
11. Bob Stitt
CASE: A true innovator on offense. Long-term success at FCS level. But lack of even mid-major experience likely a dealbreaker
LIKELIHOOD THAT HE’D COME IF OFFERED: 99%. Can’t see him saying no, but he's not a serious candidate for HC. Now, if we're talking OC, then we're really talking. Yes please!
12. Greg Schiano
CASE: We prefer not to win or sell season tickets.
LIKELIHOOD THAT HE’D COME IF OFFERED: 99%. Welcome to my nightmare.
Welcome to the third installment of "Yet Another CC Roundup!" (Part 1 and part 2.) In this edition, I examine several fringe candidates--a fuzzy category including low probability hires and those who should be low probability hires. As usual, there are 4 serious and 1 not-so-serious profiles included.
1. Bob Stitt
POTENTIAL UPSIDE: Everyone’s favorite fringe candidate is a bona fide offensive innovator--arguably this decade's Rich Rodriguez (at WVU). So at the least we’d probably run some cool plays that aren’t read pre-snap by literally everyone watching the game. In a best case scenario we could see an offense literally no one is prepared to defend (yet).
POTENTIAL DOWNSIDE: The Rich Rodriguez experience didn't travel well to Ann Arbor. And he, at least, came in with a record of success at a Big East school.
TRANSITION COSTS: High. We don’t run anything remotely resembling that offense, recruiting would almost certainly nosedive and attrition would be significant.
OVERALL DESIRABILITY: As an HC? Let’s be honest here—it’s low. Running a "blue blood" program clearly takes a lot more than schematic innovation; some of those things are invariably annoying and frustrating to us as fans, but it would be naive to pretend they aren't real. At the least Stitt would need several years to acclimate, and we’re just not that patient anymore.
CHANCES OF HIM COMING: Close to non-existent, unless we’re talking about a potentially open offensive coordinator position. Would he take that? I don’t know, but it’s the only thing we’d plausibly offer.
2. Greg Schiano
POTENTIAL UPSIDE: A more irritating, less sympathetic version of Iowa under Kirk Ferentz.
POTENTIAL DOWNSIDE: A more irritating, less sympathetic version of Michigan since 2013.
TRANSITION COSTS: Low. That’s something I guess.
OVERALL DESIRABILITY: Extremely low. Schiano only surpassed 10 wins once in eleven tries at Rutgers. Meanwhile, his two-year stint with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers was an unmitigated disaster--marked by palace intrigue, backstabbing and frequent losses. As far as I'm concerned, Schiano may be the worst possible hire of all the discussed candidates.
CHANCES OF HIM COMING: If offered? A near certainty. But let’s just hope that never comes to pass.
3. Paul Chryst
POTENTIAL UPSIDE: Wisconsin! I mean, who does more with less in the Big 10? Plus now that he’s gotten some HC experience at Pitt, Chryst might be able to pull a Dantonio and implement something comprehensive, sustainable and well-suited to talent pool in the upper Midwest.
POTENTIAL DOWNSIDE: For the record, Pitt is not very good.
TRANSITION COSTS: Low. He runs an inside-zone based scheme on offense, would probably hire to fit personnel on defense.
OVERALL DESIRABILITY: Moderate. He’s a good fit in most ways, but again—Pitt. Granted, Pitt is a terrible job—even Todd Graham did poorly there. But Chryst hasn’t really shown any signs of genius once separated from Alvarez and Bielema either. Always possible he just called the plays at Wisconsin and so wouldn’t deserve much credit for the recruitment-and-development program that has driven their recent successes. He may be a great coach in the long-term scheme of things, but purely as a candidate for HC at this exact moment in time, Chryst feels like a poor man's McElwain to me.
CHANCES OF HIM COMING: If offered? High. But the chances we offer it to him are low to moderate. Chryst is either a backup plan or a backup to the backup plan. Or not on any sort of plan.
4. Bret Bielema
POTENTIAL UPSIDE: Wisconsin with a richer talent base: tough defenses paired with high scoring, inside zone-based offenses, producing lots of wins in the crappy Big 10. Wears headset while pointing.
POTENTIAL DOWNSIDE: Similar caveats about the Wisconsin experience being portable. They’ve built that machine over decades. Plus if you look at his record, the first three years look eerily like Hoke’s—do we have that kind of patience?
TRANSITION COSTS: As low as you can go. He runs an inside-zone based scheme on offense and knows how to get the most out of his defensive roster.
OVERALL DESIRABILITY: High for a fringe candidate. Regardless of how you feel about him personally, Bielema is a perfect fit for our personnel, and is another one of those “should be able to do what Hoke was supposed to do” type candidates (especially since, after declines in years 1-3 at Wisconsin, he then rattled off four straight quality seasons). In total, he coached 7 seasons at Wisconsin, and did this: 3/7 Big Ten Championships, 4/7 10+ wins and 6/7 ranked at the end of the year with a total winning pct of .739. His 1-5 record vs. OSU does give pause, but would we not kill for the rest right now? Plus he recruits and develops players very well, and now Arkansas has even won a couple big games in the SEC West--that makes him orders of magnitude more desirable than, say, Schiano. At the same time, it's hard to see us make a move for him if any of the marquee candidates are still in the mix.
CHANCES OF HIM COMING: Moderate. Tony Gerdeman argues that Bielema might plausibly look for a return to the Big 10, since paying him Hoke’s salary would constitute a big raise and the SEC West is impossible. Gerdeman also contends that Bielema would relish the opportunity to “stick it to Barry Alvarez” (for reasons that are unclear to me, but maybe it's true). On the other hand, this is just idle speculation on Gerdeman's part and there’s apparently the trifling matter of a $12.8 million buyout as well. So if we were interested, it would all come down to whether Arkansas wanted to fight to keep him (I think—help me out here if you know more about how these buyout things work).
POTENTIAL UPSIDE: He can run an offense, that’s for sure. Already has experience at two historical programs that feel the weight of history as well. Maybe third time’s the charm?
POTENTIAL DOWNSIDE: Those experiences were primarily negative.
TRANSITION COSTS: Short-term costs would be pretty low. Long-term? Don’t even ask.
OVERALL DESIRABILITY: Extremely low, due to T.O. effect, in which an undeniably talented and capable figure produces right off the bat but then begins to corrode the program from within. Added benefit of more time at Alabama potentially having that effect on Saban's program.
CHANCES OF HIM COMING: Low but not impossible. No one has ever mentioned Kiffin as a serious candidate at Michigan, but you just know he’s angling for another HC job, and there are only two good ones on the market this year (so far). This guy must interview well, because he’s got bad idea jeans written all over him. Thankfully Floridian weather is more visor-friendly.
Hot on the heels of yesterday's diary, here's your next selection of CC candidates. These 5 (well, 4 of them at least) were chosen because their names have come up and been discussed seriously--not based on the likelihood that they will coach Michigan in 2015. Ergo there's a bigger emphasis on "mmm...not so sure" than last time.
1. John Harbaugh
POTENTIAL UPSIDE: Though not as amped up or total-destruction-oriented as his little brother, John Harbaugh’s NFL success would act as a magnet for recruits, and he clearly knows how to hire a good staff. Seems to "get" Michigan and why it's special. Might even be able to keep Mattison.
POTENTIAL DOWNSIDE: Hasn’t been in college for a long time, so there’s always the risk his strengths as a coach wouldn’t quite translate. Might hire Cam Cameron.
TRANSITION COSTS: Negligible.
OVERALL DESIRABILITY: High. Getting a successful, Super Bowl-winning NFL coach (as opposed to a castoff) would be quite the move for Hackett to make.
CHANCES OF HIM COMING: Low. There was some chatter about it at one point, but it’s fairly unprecedented for a successful NFL coach (who is currently enjoying said success) to bolt for college. That would apply to Jim as well, except that Jim may be a poor fit for the NFL and John is not, and Jim played for Bo and John did not.
2. Gary Patterson
POTENTIAL UPSIDE: High levels of success that are sustainable over time.
POTENTIAL DOWNSIDE: Without ties to the upper Midwest, may have more trouble implementing his vision up north that at a Texas or Oklahoma school. Is reportedly close to Dantonio.
TRANSITION COSTS: Moderate on offense. TCU has implemented a couple spread offenses, and you’d figure that’s what he’d want to do in Ann Arbor as well. Transition to any kind of spread would produce a few growing pains, but hey…can’t be much worse than this year, right? Negligible on defense—Patterson is a defensive guy. Though our personnel doesn’t look much like TCUs, like Graham I think he’d adjust to what he has to work with.
OVERALL DESIRABILITY: Very high. He’s made teeny-weeny TCU a Big 12 power by identifying and developing talent outside the Rivals 250, by implementing a strong defensive scheme, and hiring well on offense. This should translate to success at a major program with a stronger potential recruiting base.
CHANCES OF HIM COMING: May as well be non-existent. Patterson has been linked to nearly every major job opening for years and hasn’t left TCU yet. Sure the same was true of Chris Peterson, and he did take the UW job, but that’s only one state over and he’s been a Northwest guy since 1993. The only job I can see Patterson leaving TCU for would be Oklahoma in the event Bob Stoops goes to Florida or the NFL.
3. Jim McElwain
POTENTIAL UPSIDE: Turns our offense into the efficient, inside zone-based, constraint-loving machine we hoped Nussmeier would bring; hires well enough on defense to toughen up an already-decent unit.
POTENTIAL DOWNSIDE: Has trouble transitioning from low-key Colorado State to big-time Michigan. That scheme may simply be a no-go with our current personnel, and we're not all that patient anymore.
TRANSITION COSTS: Negligible. He runs the same offense we do, just better.
OVERALL DESIRABILITY: Moderate. I really like McElwain and what he’s done at both Alabama and Colorado State. But three years at CSU isn’t much to go by, especially when there are guys out there who have longer resumes. However, if our top plausible picks (Jim Harbaugh, Mullen, Miles and Graham) don’t pan out, McElwain is a solid backup plan.
CHANCES OF HIM COMING: Low to Moderate. I think he’d take the job, but that $7.5 buyout is insane. One could imagine UM paying that for Harbaugh, but it’s tough to see the university paying that for someone who’s essentially “plan E”—especially considering the payouts to Brandon and Hoke. Maybe there’s a loophole? If so the likelihood increases.
4. Tom Herman
POTENTIAL UPSIDE: Like Mullen, the chance he’ll be “Urban 2.0,” pull a Bo and one-up his former mentor. He’s also 39, which means he could stay for a Bo-like tenure.
POTENTIAL DOWNSIDE: With no head coaching experience, there’s the obvious risk that he’d be unprepared to run a major program.
TRANSITION COSTS: Moderate on offense—as mentioned yesterday, spread-with-power is a good fit for the type of kids we can recruit, but it’s not clear that we have the right guys in place for that at QB or RB. Unclear on defense, as he’s never run a defense before. One can assume he’d try to hire someone competent and then delegate, but whether he’d do so successfully is an entirely different question.
OVERALL DESIRABILITY: Moderate. Actually the upside is quite high here, but the unknowns make this a very risky pick. May be a better candidate next time around, especially if we hire someone on the back end of their career, like Miles.
CHANCES OF HIM COMING: If offered, very high. The chances of Herman receiving an offer, however, are low.
5. Jim Tressel
POTENTIAL UPSIDE: Matter meets antimatter, resulting in a singularity forming over Columbus and East Lansing. Also, free tattoos and Diet Coke.
POTENTIAL DOWNSIDE: You know that probably means the end of all existence, right? And punts. Lots of punts.
DESIRABILITY: High, if only for the trolling factor.
CHANCES OF HIM COMING: LOL.
I've been loving the on-going CC roundup series by Alum96 and Ron Utah, but honestly I can't get enough of speculating on who our next coach will be. So I figured--what the hell, here's another roundup! Today I look at five potential coaches (well, four real ones) from a different angle...
1. Jim Harbaugh
POTENTIAL UPSIDE: Could tear a path of destruction through the weak Big 10, including among those who have benefitted most from our seven-year journey through football purgatory. No question whatsoever about his drive to win, which would probably happen frequently and emphatically. Bonus of the inevitable "what’s YOUR deal" moment with Dantonio.
POTENTIAL DOWNSIDE: Bolting to the NFL is always a concern; ultra-competitive, Alpha-plus personality rubs a lot of people the wrong way.
TRANSITION COSTS: Minimal. Harbaugh’s NFL success (as player and coach) would act as a magnet for recruits. And while Harbaugh is an inveterate tinkerer, he’s had success running multiple offensive schemes (power running, TE-heavy at Stanford; zone running, dual-threat stuff with the 49ers).
OVERALL DESIRABILITY: Astronomically high.
CHANCES OF HIM COMING: Either very high or very low, depending on which unsubstantiated rumors you believe.
2. Les Miles
POTENTIAL UPSIDE: Turns Michigan into “the LSU of the North,” to compete with MSU’s “Alabama of the North” and OSU’s “Florida of the North.” Great recruiting classes, monster defenses, good enough offenses and a healthy proportion of 10+ win seasons.
POTENTIAL DOWNSIDE: Always possible that a coach in his 60s will have lost his drive this late in his career, and would be content bringing stability to the program rather than championships. Unclear if his roster management would suffer in the no-oversigning context of the Big 10. That thing that may have happened in the 90s might prove to still be a source of division among program insiders.
TRANSITION COSTS: Minimal. Miles doesn’t do anything schematically that would require different players from the ones we have (though he would probably do a better job developing talent).
OVERALL DESIRABILITY: High for many people; extremely low for some others. Balance is moderate-to-high.
CHANCES OF HIM COMING: He has allegedly said that he wouldn’t say no to Michigan, but even so we failed to offer him the last two times, which makes you wonder if we ever would.
3. Dan Mullen
POTENTIAL UPSIDE: This year is no fluke, meaning he's Urban 2.0. Could therefore pull a Bo and one-up the old mentor.
POTENTIAL DOWNSIDE: Success this year at Missisippi State could turn out to be a mirage of sorts, and previous years, in which Mississippi State beat the SEC bottom-dwellers and lost to the elite could turn out to be more indicative of what he'd do here.
TRANSITION COSTS: Moderate on offense—spread-with-power is a good fit for the Big 10, as Meyer has demonstrated at OSU, but we don’t have a Braxton Miller or Carlos Hyde on the roster, so it would probably take a little longer for us to get all the pieces in place. Negligible on defense.
OVERALL DESIRABILITY: High, and potentially very high, but with an element of nervousness.
CHANCES OF HIM COMING: Depends on Florida. Most have him pegged for Gainesville, though that may be a no-go. If Florida is in the running, I’d say our chances of landing him are moderate at best. But if Florida is indeed out of the running, the Michigan is the only AAA job on the board in a year when his stock will never be higher.
4. Todd Graham
POTENTIAL UPSIDE: Fast, aggressive defenses paired with spread-to-pass offenses, wins big games with regularity.
POTENTIAL DOWNSIDE: Treats Michigan as another quick stop on the roadtrip; outward Christian piety clashes with institutional culture at the University.
TRANSITION COSTS: Moderate on offense—we have enough wideouts to run a passing spread, but I’m not sure the rest of the roster is well suited to it. Low on defense—we don’t really look like ASU on defense, but Graham is a defensive-minded coach, so I'm sure he can adjust.
CHANCES OF HIM COMING: Moderate. He’s always a risk to go anywhere the lights are bigger and brighter, but he’s also close to some of RR’s staffers, so may not have a great opinion of Michigan as a work environment (for an outsider). May be more keen on Florida.
5. Bill Belichick
POTENTIAL UPSIDE: Endless, Sith-like power. Drew Sharp self-destruct sequence initiates.
POTENTIAL DOWNSIDE: Enjoys the company of Mike Vrabel, Nick Saban.
TRANSITION COSTS: Non-existent, since now any walk-on might run for 200 yards or record 6 sacks at any given moment.
CHANCES OF THEM COMING: A man can dream, can’t he?
Before the season started, most pundits and fans figured we were either an 8-4 or 9-3 team. We were going to lose to MSU and probably OSU too; Notre Dame was a tossup, and there was probably going to be one unexpected loss in there as well somewhere. My prediction fell along these lines; at the time, it felt safe.
These assumptions were based on an analysis of “on paper” talent and experience, an apparent upgrade to a more rational, constraint-based offensive scheme, promises of a more aggressive defensive scheme better suited to the conference’s growing number of spread offenses, and the overall weakness of the Big 10. So we had our reasons, and they appeared to be good ones. Granted, the pessimists among us thought we were naïve; they suggested Michigan was more likely to go 7-5.
Now we sit at 3-4, having lost to Notre Dame but also Utah, Minnesota and Rutgers (yes, Rutgers). Our run offense has improved somewhat, but pass protection is a mess, while Gardner has seemingly regressed in the new system. Meanwhile, our defense has been good but not the elite squad we hoped for: we are better against the run than we were a year ago, but still mediocre at best against the pass. Oh, and our -11 turnover ratio spells DOOM. For comparison’s sake, we had a -2 turnover margin through the end of October 2013; we neither protecting the ball well enough on offense nor generating enough turnovers on defense. This is why we are bad.
Looking forward, 8-4 is still not impossible, but it’s so unlikely that it might as well be. The prospects for 7-5—that dreaded repeat of 2013—are moderately higher, but unless there’s some appreciable improvement (particularly in the turnover department), we won’t win in Evanston—let alone East Lansing or Columbus. As Seth recently said, this team may struggle to end up 6-6. Going 5-7 or worse is no longer unimaginable.
To illustrate, the predictive model I presented last time initially suggested we’d win 8.65 games. If you replace the predictive probabilities with the actual outcomes (0 or 1) for all games up to this point, it now suggests we’ll win 6.13. That’s still dependent on those preseason probability assessments, all of which look too rosy now. If I were to reassess them, the equation outputs 5.05 wins, with Indiana and Maryland the most likely. But even those games come with question marks—Maryland especially, given their WRs and our inability to cover WRs.
Using my Alien/Aliens based metaphor, we are clearly:
5. Alien Resurrection
Metaphor: Directed by the supremely talented Jean-Pierre Jeunot and featuring a screenplay by Joss Whedon—what could possibly go wrong? Nearly everything, that’s what. As Whedon later said: “It wasn't a question of doing everything differently, although they changed the ending; it was mostly a matter of doing everything wrong. They said the lines...mostly...but they said them all wrong. And they cast it wrong. And they designed it wrong. And they scored it wrong. They… just executed it in such a ghastly fashion as to render it almost unwatchable.”
Scenario: 7-5 or worse. Our defense is not as good as expected and/or our offense is as bad or worse than last year. Coach: meet hot seat. Athletic Director: meet pitchforks.
.15. Not outside the realm of possibility, but I’m also just not seeing this as very plausible either. Hard to see this turning out any other way at this point.
Maybe I was wrong--dead wrong--about how many games we won, but is this not a perfect description of our football team? We execute everything wrong, Devin is cast wrong, we have piped-in RAWK instead of the band scoring our home games, we say things wrong, and, at least twice this year, we have played unwatchable football. Obligatory image of the Springfield Tire Fire:
A Eulogy for the Brady Hoke Era
I'm genuinely sad about Brady Hoke's career trajectory. Everything started with such promise--sure there was a lot of talk about "running power," but it was all talk. Hoke was a "whatever works" guy, even if that meant (smartly) retaining most of Rich Rodriguez's offense. He said all the right things, gambled at the right time, brought in a dizzying array of top recruits, and oversaw a defensive transformation from worst-in-the-country to top 3 in the conference. We even won a BCS game, the first since Tom Brady led that epic comeback against Alabama in 1999/2000. Plus there was this:
Even going 8-5 in 2012 was understandable, since 4 of those losses came to the AP's final #1, 3, 4 and 8 teams--none of whom we played at home--and we were competitive in 3/4. It wasn't 11-2 with a BCS game, but at least we could hold our heads up high. Then the wheels started to come off against Akron last year, and almost nothing's gone right since. No need to recap--we all know the score at this point.
Bottom line, I'm grateful to Brady Hoke for the good memories, and am genuinely sad that it hasn't worked out. But without a roadmap to future success, with serious questions as to whether this staff can develop recruits, and with most of us tired of and frustrated with this seemingly endless sojourn in football purgatory, it's absolutely, 100% time to move on. Now.
My CC Wish List
At this point, the most important question is whether we are also Notre Dame 2.0. Not Notre Dame right now, but the Notre Dame of the post-Holtz/pre-Kelley interregnum—a brand-name program that can’t seem to translate top recruiting classes into consistent win percentages. They went through three, not two, bad coaching performances (Davie, Willingham and Weis) before finally settling on a guy (Kelley) who appears capable of consistently translating recruiting classes into wins. So are we going to find our Brian Kelley, or are we going to end up with our Charlie Weis?
With the urgency of preventing the latter of happening, I’d like to present a set of parameters that I’d hope would guide the next coaching search.
NOTE: this is not meant as a list of "musts." It's a wishlist, i.e. the things I'd, ideally, like our next coach to do. I do not necessarily expect our next coach to fulfill all of them. Actually not many realistic candidates fulfill all of them. However, these are the things I would look for, were I the one conducting the search.
1. Hire someone with a clear track record of “coaching up” recruits.
At this point I think we can all agree that our current staff’s main deficiency is its inability to turn highly-rated recruiting classes into highly-ranked football teams—most obviously on the OL, but at safety, RB and arguably WR as well. This is not something unique to Michigan: Texas has had the same problem for years, as have Tennessee, Florida and USC on a shorter-term basis (see also: ND prior to the Kelly hire, Nebraska prior to the Pelini hire, Washington between James and Sarkesian, etc.).
Clearly being a football “blue-blood” with a natural recruiting advantage does not automatically ensure on the field success. I’d also argue that it’s significantly more important than pulling in highly-rated recruiting classes: look at Dantonio and Bielema, who have both been able to get the most out of recruits other schools passed over. I’m not saying we ignore recruiting evaluations or go for the same 2-stars as Wisconsin—just that we stress a track record of player development over other considerations in our coaching search. Put another way, finding a guy who can consistently turn 4/5 star recruits into high-level performers should be our #1 priority. Everything else is secondary.
Prioritizing this, of course, would likely preclude us from hiring a coordinator without head coaching experience, as OCs and DCs don’t have experience building staff. That doesn’t mean an OC or DC couldn’t do a great job developing talent, but rather that we are no longer in a position to take that kind of a risk.
2. Hire someone who takes a non-ideological approach to coaching (and especially offense)…
I get that this site includes a number of “spread zealots,” and I do like spread offenses (more on that later) but I’m weary of zealotry and its ancillary effects at this point. Lots of different offensive schemes can and do work in the FBS, and zealotry at the coaching level seems to always come with strange manifestations of stubbornness—at least at Michigan.
One thing I loved about Brady Hoke in the beginning was how, despite all the talk about “toughness” and “power,” he and Borges ran what was in essence a continuation of Rich Rodriguez’ speed-oriented spread-to-run offense. The wheels started to come off as soon as we moved away from “whatever fits our personnel” to “let’s pretend our athletic, dual-threat quarterback with accuracy issues is Tom Brady in the 1990s because this is Michigan fergodsake RUN POWER.” There are other reasons for our decline since the final whistle of Notre Dame 2013, of course, but this is a big one.
So essentially I want a coach who isn’t ideologically committed to things going a certain way, but is rather flexible and open-minded about how to use what you’ve got and build what you don’t. Though he’s fundamentally a spread-to-run guy, look at how Urban Meyer has run the offense in Columbus—or if that example rankles, consider Oklahoma under Stoops, Les Miles at LSU or Jim Harbaugh in transition from Stanford to the 49ers. These are all guys who take a flexible approach to offense, and have enjoyed success with different on-paper skillsets from the roster. We could learn from that.
[On the defensive side, see: Rodriguez’ bizarre insistence on the 3-3-5 regardless of staff or personnel.]
3. …but who does have a systematic approach to offense.
Being non-ideological about offense does not mean you have run grab-bag offenses with a lot of plays and no cohesion. I want someone who understands and runs the Constraint Theory of Offense, which stipulates that you run play B to keep defenses from keying in on play A, and you run play C when they overcommit to stopping A. For example, Rodriguez in 2010 with: QB Iso (A), Bubble Screen (B) and Pop Pass (C). Or Rodriguez in 2007 with: Zone Read RB (A), Zone Read QB (B) and Pop Pass (C). Or Nussmeier at Alabama with: Inside Zone (A), Bubble Screen/Outside Zone (B) and Play-action Pass/Power O (C).
The Constraint Theory of Offense does not care if you align in the spread or go pro-style. It just wants you to: a) read defenses and make adjustments according to what the defense is giving you; and b) capitalize on any and all overcommitments. As Chris Brown says, everyone should do this.
4. Hire someone who dispenses with the huddle, whether or not they go hurry-up.
Please correct me if I’m making the wrong assumption here, but I’ve always inferred that Brian, the Mathlete and others take a strategic view of tempo, by which I mean that they generally think uptempo (HUNH) is better (aside from obvious situations in which going fast leaves too much time on the clock at the end of a half/game). Hoke, on the other hand, appears to think that “you got to huddle” and wind down the clock on every play—no matter the circumstances.
If I had to choose, I’d take HUNH over "sloowwwwwwwwww it dowwwwn" in a heartbeat. However, I’d argue, as I have in several diaries and comments on this blog, that a tactical approach to tempo is ideal. By “tactical tempo” I mean: a) the ability to go fast or slow at any given moment; b) the willingness to go fast or slow according to circumstance; and c) deliberately varying tempo settings to unsettle defenses, settle your offense and/or give your defense a rest—game to game, drive to drive and play to play.
Tactical no-huddle approaches, like HUNH, work best when you dispense with the huddle. But whereas going no-huddle is a practical necessity for HUNH, it’s more a competitive advantage here. By getting to the line quickly, you either get a play off quickly (HU) or you give your quarterback time to read the defense. Time in the huddle is wasted time however you cut it, and QBs like Gardner and Morris could clearly use more time reading defenses.
For some empirical examples, I’d point you to how Urban Meyer approaches tempo at OSU—right now they are ranked #13 in ToP, compared with #113 for ASU and #123 for Oregon. But unlike some other Big 10 dinosaurs, Meyer’s OSU can turn on the jets pretty much whenever they want.
5. Hire someone for whom shotgun is the default...
I have nothing against under center play—it can work great for schools with mauler OLs and accurate, quick-reading QBs. But as long as we have questions on the OL and QBs who can make plays with their legs but are also prone to making questionable throws on a regular basis (Morris appears to be the fourth of these in a row), we are better served by shotgun formations. Shotgun helps the QB read the defense pre-snap, gives the QB more time to read the defense post-snap and allows for QB runs (or at least the threat of QB runs). I see no downside to shotgun.
6. …and who is known for running a dynamic passing offense.
Do you remember the last time we had a dynamic passing offense for a whole season? I do—2006. At present there are three principle ways teams install one of these: 1) have 2-3 dominant receivers no one can cover; 2) spread out your WRs and get little dudes in space; and 3) put at least 2 pass catching TEs on the field who are too big for DBs and too fast for LBs. Examples of each would be: 1) us in 2006 or USC under Pete Carroll; 2) anyone who learned anything from Mike Leach; and 3) Jim Harbaugh at Stanford/the 2011 New England Patriots.
Few schools appear able to bring in 2-3 dominant WRs with consistency, including us in the years since Manningham and Arrington left for the NFL, so I’ll go with options #2 or #3. With regards #2, as much as I hated losing to Rutgers, I admired how effectively their spread-to-pass scheme took advantage of our gooey inside pass coverage and suspect safety play. And I’ve long admired how schools like TTU can put almost anyone in at QB and produce 300-400 passing yards/game. FTR, we have some anyones on our roster.
I also see this as relatively easy to install given our personnel. We’re already zone blocking on most plays anyways, so the OL would’t need to learn a whole new system. The WRs would, but given the lack of progress with our WRs this year, it might be for the best. And just imagine our new coach/OC splitting Funchess and Darboh/Chesson out wide, and then using their routes to get Canteen/Norfleet/Jones lost in space—until defenses adjust and then you’ve got Michael Crabtree Devin Funchess going vertical one-on-one. Plus Butt and Hayes are guys you could line up inside and then split out wide whenever you like, so there’s that too.
I also love the flexible, dual TE offenses Harbaugh and BoB developed. Going dual TE would require another pass-catching TE, of course, though *maybe* we’ll get one this year.
7. …and an aggressive, read-based defense.
Our defense improved by leaps and bounds under Mattison and Hoke, but since 2012 it’s felt soft—especially on pass coverage. I’m just going to be straight up and say I want us to install an aggressive defensive scheme where corners know how to press and everyone knows how to read the offense pre- and post-snap. Chris Brown’s piece on MSU’s defense is instructive. I know, I know--easier said than done. But let’s keep trying to do that too. It's where defensive scheme is at right now, and looks to be in the future.
8. Hire someone who can do PR/tell AD to butt out of game planning.
The former appears to have been a problem with Rodriguez, the latter with Hoke. So clearly attempt #3 requires someone positioned to do both.
Can you think of anyone who roughly fits this bill? I can. His name begins with a "J" and ends with an "im Harbaugh."
So I, er, lost my nearly completed draft of Reading the Tea Leaves 2014, and now I’m rewriting it from a barely-worth-the-name-of-DSL connection under threat of dengue–carrying mosquitos in an equatorial megalopolis. Outside there are people with megaphones, leading either an opposition rally or aerobic exercises—both of which have taken place on previous mornings before 7 AM. I am tired, I am sweaty and yet I want to talk to you about our prospects in 2014!
The Big Questions
- Is our defense elite or just good?
- To what degree can tempo and scheme upgrades mitigate the loss of two tackles to the NFL and continued uncertainty everywhere else on the OL?
- What is a realistic goal for our program in 2014?
On #1, I’ll split the difference between Michigan 2013 and MSU 2013. Returning nearly everyone means a moderate upgrade at nearly every position. Also trading an undersized Jibril Black and underutilized Quinton Washington for rehabbing Ondre Pipkins* plus Willie Henry is, at worst, a wash. I expect Frank Clark, Jake Ryan and—yes—Jabril Peppers to remind us of (the exciting part of) the good ol’ days. Strong safety is the big question mark, and without an answer, we might get burned here and there. But overall I like our personnel and I like the aggressive new direction—we were too soft in 2013. I’m quietly confident that our defense will take people by surprise and end up the best of the Greg Mattison era.
On #2, it depends on what part of the season you’re talking about. Early on our OL should be pretty bad. The question then becomes: what can Doug Nussmeier call to take pressure off of it—especially considering the loss of both starting tackles to the NFL? I’ve waxed eloquent on the virtues of Inside Zone, and Nussmeier’s Inside Zone-based offense at Alabama, which was predicated on the startling premise that teams should run hard and inside for positive rather than negative yardage. I imagine Nuss will add “pass quickly, horizontally and into space” in order to take advantage of our deep receiving corps, get LBs to back off and thus force opposing defenses to beat our young OL with their DL. And as questionable as our OL looks, there aren’t many high-quality DLs in the Big 10.
Nussmeier’s tenure at Washington involved a lot more spread concepts than at Alabama. Given our quarterback and his skills as a runner, we may even get back into the “run the QB; run the QB; QB oh noes” business. But don’t expect anything to be pretty until the OL starts to click (and even in the rosiest scenarios, that will take a few games). I firmly believe that by repping Inside Zone to insanity, we’ll finally see consistent improvement in the run game over the course of the season. How much? Unclear. But I expect we’ll finish the season feeling like the OL and run game are, at least, trending in the right direction. Before that, it’s Tresselball time, baby.
Question #3 asks us to consider both #1 and #2, as well as our schedule. Before looking at the schedule, though, let’s consider a best-case scenario for combining a dominating defense with a work-in-progress offense:
MSU 2013 (11-1).
…and a worst-case scenario:
MSU 2012 (6-6)
Both MSU teams married a dominating defense to a questionable offense. A big difference between MSU 2013 and 2012? Schedule. In 2012 they played us and Wisconsin away, as well as soon-to-be-undefeated Ohio and a Notre Dame team en route to the National Championship Game. Add in tough Iowa and Nebraska games and there you have it. In 2013, by contrast, they played a worse ND (though they lost**), a worse us at home and, crucially, no Wisconsin and no Ohio (during the regular season at least). The difference isn't just reducible to schedule (in 2013 they beat Iowa and Nebraska on the road, whereas in 2012 they failed to beat either at home), but MSU developed into a superior team in part because a weak schedule gave an initially bad offense room to grow into an offense confident enough in its abilities to not lose and occasionally even win games. Incidentally, this is exactly what we need to happen to our offense this year.
So is our schedule likely to facilitate such a transformation, or will it more likely lead to the black-end flameouts we experienced in 2009, 2010 and 2013? As others have mentioned, we have exactly 3 games scheduled against teams that had more wins than us in 2013, and all are away. Prior to recent developments, many pundits had us losing all 3—and with good reason. I had us just below the tossup threshold for ND and Ohio, and MSU a likely loss (don’t shoot the messenger). But now an already shaky Notre Dame squad has lost an additional 3 defensive starters; meanwhile, Ohio—already missing Hyde and 4 starting OL—has lost Miller for the season. That doesn’t make either game a likely win, but it does move them into tossup or even “tossup plus” territory.
But what about the other kind of potential loss—you know, the ones you are *supposed* to win but flub, look past or otherwise underestimate, like PSU or Nebraska 2013 (or, more worryingly, like Akron 2013***, Toledo 2008 or Appalachian State 2007)? Utah could be one, and Penn State another. Maryland maybe, but probably not. Outside that, well, Rutgers are terrible, Minnesota can’t beat us and Northwestern lost its two dangerous offensive players (Kain Colter and Venric Mark) on an offense we haven’t had that much trouble containing. There’s Appalachian State, which frightens me in all kinds of existential ways, but really shouldn’t pose much of a problem (emphasis on “shouldn’t”). I do expect us to drop one somewhere, but overall I see our schedule tilting closer to MSU 2013 than MSU 2012. In other words, we have a rock solid case for 8 wins, a realistic shot at 9 and a theoretical roadmap to 10+.
APPALACHIAN STATE (.80) – They are not App State 2007, but neither are we Michigan 2007 (arguably the most talented squad of the Carr era). Still, this is one we should win and by a comfortable margin—even with the early season problems. The uncertainty reflects respect for the team that gave us THE HORROR and memories of last year’s hiccups against Akron and UCONN.
At NOTRE DAME (.55) – You’d think all the dismissals, our recent victories and the graduation of Tommy Rees (who was fairly effective against us over his career) would make this more likely than “tossup plus,” but it’s away and I expect a hostile crowd to bring out the growing pains on our OL—even with all the missing starters on ND’s defense.
MIAMI (NTM) (1.00) – Our only MACrifice and our first “guaranteed win.”****
UTAH (.67) – Utah were
horrible up-and-down last year, but are expected to be significantly better this year. May give us some trouble, but we should still win in the end.
MINNESOTA (.90) – On paper, the Gophers are decent; in reality, they can’t beat us in Ann Arbor (or anywhere). Minimal uncertainty, as usual.
At RUTGERS (1.00) – The second “guaranteed win.”****
PSU (.60) – This is the “should win” game I’m most concerned about. It’s not that I think PSU is all that good, but rather I’m afraid we’ll look past them (to MSU). On the other hand, while James Franklin should be an upgrade for their program in many ways, I don’t think he’s as good of an in-game coach as Bill O’Brien, so a repeat of last year’s 4th quarter outcoaching seems unlikely.
At MSU (.33) – Dantonio’s program does have its off-years, and they are also losing a lot of key personnel. On the other hand, they’ve got a system that keeps replacing disciplined redshirt seniors with disciplined redshirt juniors, and we haven’t won in East Lansing since 2007. We have a better shot than we did last year, true, but the worm hasn’t turned in our relationship yet.
INDIANA (.80) – Explosive offense, meet defense designed to mitigate you; inept defense, meet offense that *might* be clicking by this point (relatively speaking). A game that could get annoying, especially if there’s a Sparty hangover, but we really shouldn’t lose this one.
At NORTHWESTERN (.75) – Some close calls recently, but they won’t have the guys who usually give us fits (Colter and Mark). Also not away, but “away.”
MARYLAND – (.75) – Good skill players on offense, a decent enough starting lineup on defense and positioned right before The Game. If this was on the road, I’d be concerned.
At OHIO (.50) – This game has been close each of the last 3 years, even though in each of those years one team was considered to be significantly better than the other. I expect another close one in 2014. But whereas with Miller I had this as .40, now it’s hard to see how a team breaking in 4 new OL, new RBs and replacing a potential Heisman candidate/genuine dual-threat QB with a redshirt freshman (or underwhelming sophomore) is going to get enough yards against our defense. On the other hand, their DL is pretty much guaranteed to own our OL, even with the predicted improvement over the course of the season. And it’s in Columbus, where we haven’t won since 2000 (sad face). It’s hard, given past history, to say we are favored, but I do think we have an excellent chance of ending that streak.
2(1.00) + .90 + .80 + 2(.75) + .67 + .60 + .55 + .50 + .33 = 8.70 wins
Breaking it down, I favor us in 10/12 games and strongly favor us in 8/12. We really should win 8 games this year. A predicted win count of 8.83 also suggests we are significantly more likely to win 9 or more than 7 or fewer. You never know, but I’d say a season in which we beat ND, lose to MSU, lose one dropped one egg and coin-flip against Ohio seems like a good bet. That would put us at 9/10 wins, depending on the outcome of that last game. (We might also drop more than one egg, but a better defense, schematic upgrade on offense and easier schedule should limit the number.)
Getting past 9 wins, though, would probably require the balance of intangibles to really go our way: not only talent, execution and the right balance of aggression and caution in play-calling, but also a positive balance on fortuitous turnovers, a lack of devastating injuries and fewer soul-crushing penalties going our way than theirs. This does happen (2011!) but sometimes it doesn’t (2012!). Never forget that a few bad calls or throws can turn a 10 win season into an 8er.
Alas, we kinda sorta need 9 wins to keep the program moving forward. 8 might be enough to buy Hoke another year, but less than that and the pitchforks come out. Even 8 would keep us in a bad kind of limbo. On the other hand, 9+ would show progress, shore up recruiting and illuminate a path for 2015, when nearly all of the personnel pieces—painstakingly cobbled together after the recruiting/attrition disasters of 2010 and 2011—look to be in order. Whether this truth breeds hunger or desperation is one of the million dollar questions of our upcoming season.
In past years I’ve asked: what Star Wars movie or Song of Ice and Fire book will our season resemble. The answers: Attack of the Clones (2012) and A Dance with Dragons (2013). Did you like A Dance with Dragons? I did not.
This year our theme will be the Aliens movies. I’m using another list from the same site as template, though omitting the Predator and AVP films in order to simplifying it to 5 categories (even though, as any comic nerd of the early 1990s knows, they exist in the same universe). I also switched around the rankings of Prometheus and Alien3 because, well, s/he was wrong.
Metaphor: Alien is unquestionably the best entry in the series and arguably the best sci-fi/horror movie of the color film era. We’re back to being the Gold Standard, baby!
Scenario: 12-0 or 11-1. We chart a similar path to MSU 2013: our defense is elite, our offensive is good enough, the playcalling is better on both sides of the ball and fortune is with us. In all likelihood, this means we’ve made it to the Big 10 Championship Game and beaten at least 2/3 of our rivals.
Probability: .10. Not likely at all—but not unimaginable either. Check it: our defense will probably be one of the 2 or 3 best in the conference and there are no elite offenses on our schedule. On the other side, the new offensive scheme and philosophy will hopefully keep opposing defenses from stacking the box, meaning they’ll have to beat our not-good OL with their DL. That might not mean much but for the fact that there are really only 2 good DLs on our schedule. A 1/10 chance isn’t very big, but it’s something.
Record and Metaphor: Aliens may not be quite as good as Alien, but it is still really good—one of the best action films of the 1980s. Full of memorable scenes, characters, and (prophetically, I hope) ends with a badass beatdown of the ultimate villain.
Scenario: 10-2. Essentially, we are almost as good as in the first scenario, but lack the consistency and singularity of vision. In other words, something goes wrong somewhere, like it did against Iowa in 2011 and in nearly every year under Carr. But the ship rights itself. And we are totally actiontastic.
Probability: .20. Now we’re talking plausible! As I mentioned above, this is where we end up if things consistently roll the right way, like they did in 2011 and didn’t in 2012. After all, I’ve got us favored in 10/12 games. However, that doesn’t mean I expect us to win 10 games—this type of model doesn’t work like that. There’s still too much uncertainty for me to really get behind a 10-win season. But there are two plausible roads to 10 wins: take 2/3 rivalry games on the road and drop one elsewhere or take 1/3 rivalry games and not drop one anywhere. I don’t think either is super likely, but ND making the National Championship Game in 2012 wasn’t super likely either.
Record and Metaphor: 9-3. While David Fincher’s entry is by no means bad, it isn’t great either. Put another way, it’s the kind of movie you don’t turn off if it happens to be on HBO, and enjoy it enough to watch again the next time that happens. But you never love it, and after some time it ends up lumped together with all the other movies that fit the same description. That was the deal for every ho-hum 9-3 season of the Carr era. Only now we haven’t actually had any 9-3 seasons for a really long time. In fact, we’ve only had 1 season in the past 7 where we had more than 8 wins. So maybe ol’ ho-hum Alien3 ain’t lookin’ so ho-hum anymore.
Scenario: A 9-3 team is the embodiment of “good enough, but not that good,” and that’s what the sum total of our on paper strengths and weaknesses, set against the sum total of our schedule, most strongly imply we will be. As such, I see 9-3 as the most likely outcome if the balance of intangibles comes out roughly even. After all, we do play all our rivals on the road and have a massive question mark at OL to go along with the depth and talent on defense and relatively easy home schedule.
Probability: .35. The most likely scenario according to THE MATH, and the one I suspect (along with many of you) will be the final outcome of our season. The version most pundits picking 9-3 is: lose to ND, MSU and Ohio and beat everyone else. I don’t think that’s the likeliest scenario, especially given roster issues at ND and Ohio (as well as recent history in our rivalry with ND), but also considering the now oft-mentioned propensity of our team to drop at least one egg—usually but not exclusively on the road. Going 1/3 against our rivals and losing to someone like PSU or Utah feels more “right” to me.
Metaphor: A film you were all geared up for but largely disappointed by. It does feature some dazzling moments and exceptional individual performances, but on balance it just isn’t very good. The narrative is confused and full of inconsistencies, while some of the characters keep doing incredibly stupid things. Put that helmet back on!
Scenario: 8-4. We lose all 3 rivalry games plus one more, or we go 1-2 in the rivalry games and drop 2 more. Blech.
Probability: .30. Pundits who don’t predict 9-3 tend to settle on 8-4, and there’s good reason for that: we’ve thrown away games in each of the last two seasons, so why expect that to change now? You might counter argue with: “major changes in offensive and defensive philosophy, that’s why.” But we still don’t know how quickly the shift from Borges to Nussmeier will pay the expected dividends. And it’s important to note that teams with great defenses and struggling offenses don’t always go to the Rose Bowl. MSU 2012 is instructive, as are Michigan’s 1995 and 1996 teams.
5. Alien Resurrection
Metaphor: Directed by the supremely talented Jean-Pierre Jeunot and featuring a screenplay by Joss Whedon—what could possibly go wrong? Nearly everything, that’s what. As Whedon later said: “"It wasn't a question of doing everything differently, although they changed the ending; it was mostly a matter of doing everything wrong. They said the lines...mostly...but they said them all wrong. And they cast it wrong. And they designed it wrong. And they scored it wrong. They… just executed it in such a ghastly fashion as to render it almost unwatchable.”
Scenario: 7-5 or worse. Our defense is not as good as expected and/or our offense is as bad or worse than last year. Coach: meet hot seat. Athletic Director: meet pitchforks.
Probability: .15. Not outside the realm of possibility, but I’m also just not seeing this as very plausible either.
In sum, this model predicts there is an:
- 85% chance we win 8-10 games.
- 65% chance we win 8-9 games.
- 35% chance we win 9 games
- 30% chance we win 8 games
- 20% chance we win 10 games
- 15% chance we win 7 or fewer games
- 10% chance we win 11 or more games.
Rhetorical Question: wait, should recent turmoil at Notre Dame and Braxton Miller’s injury upgrade our chances? Didn’t you say yourself that there’s a clear roadmap to 10 wins?
I did and they certainly do—but not as much as you’d think. ND has roster depth on defense and our OL is almost guaranteed to struggle in that early game. As for Ohio, yes, Miller did pose a major problem for us—far greater than any posed by his backups. But there are other issues for us in that matchup that you just can’t ignore. Like us, they face turnover on the OL. But like us, they also have an offensive scheme that should produce improvement over the course of the season. And on defense, they have one of the only DLs that can shut down run lanes and pressure quarterbacks without help.
Of course, this “uncertainty model” makes certain baseline assumptions: that our defense will be better than last year; that our OL will struggle early but show improvement over the course of the season; that we are upgrading, schematically, on both sides of the ball; that our opponents will perform largely as advertised; and that the balance of intangibles will be roughly even. If any of these assumptions proves incorrect, or if I under/overestimates their effect, the level of uncertainty will shift in one direction or another, as it has in past years.
I’m somewhat concerned that most of these assumptions tilt in our favor, but our defense and schedule alone should provide some insulation from the worst-case (under 6 wins) and near-worst (6-7 wins) scenarios. It really does seem like a choice between 8 or 9 wins, with a solid chance of 10 if things consistently roll the right way. They typically do not, but occasionally they do, so there’s that. I’m a cautious optimist by nature, and the model does say 9 is more likely than 8, so I think that’s the most likely outcome. Daring choice? Hardly, but it does feel right to me.
The implications of a 9-3 season are relatively clear: increased job security for the coaching staff and, for fans, a sense that things are moving in the right direction. On the other hand, 9-3 isn’t quite good enough to end the speculation either. At some point, Hoke and company are going to have to win that Big 10 Championship they’ve been talking about since coming to Ann Arbor. We may still be a year early for that, but we at least need to see that a path to that is clear.
ADDENDUM: Retro Movie Designations
We’ve learned that 2012 was Attack of the Clones and 2013 was A Dance with Dragons. Since we’re going back to a science fiction film theme, I figured I might as well bestow retro film designations to each season since Carr retired. Here they are:
2008 (3-9): Star Wars I: The Phantom Menace – a film you had high hopes for even though you knew it could never live up to your expectations. But you never expected the heavy dose of Jar-Jar and that kid. Five minutes of Darth Maul aside, a cultural atrocity.
2009 (5-7): Wolverine: Origins – a film that had a few cool scenes near the beginning but fell apart midway and just kept getting worse as it went along.
2010 (7-5): A.I.: Artificial Intelligence – a film based on a cool premise that felt like it was moving in the right direction until it ended with 30 minutes of unforgivable garbage.
2011 (10-2): Rise of the Planet of the Apes – a film you assumed would be mediocre but ended up being surprisingly good.
2012 (8-4): Star Wars II: Attack of the Clones – a film that had its moments, but unfortunately also had its Jar-Jar moments.
2013 (7-5): Star Trek V: The Final Frontier – a film directed by William Shatner.
*I also read the presser in which Hoke says Glasgow would start over Pipkins and I am as mystified by it as you are. Assume it either means Pipkins isn't quite healthy yet or it's a motivational tactic.
**Transitive property FAIL: we keep beating ND and ND keeps beating MSU in an era when MSU keeps beating us.
***Technically a win, but portended ominous things that mostly came to fruition.
****Guarantee not recognized in any US state, territory or foreign polity.