Eye of the Tiger
Sorry this is going up late--work deadlines intervened. (Don't you hate when that happens?) In any event, better late than never! Here's my ranking of the week's action:
Dramatic Re-enactment of Michigan vs. Penn State
KOs, TKOs and Unanimous Decisions
1. Wisconsin (11) beats MSU (8) 30-6 on the road.
Anytime you go to East Lansing and punch a Dantonio-coached team in the mouth, it’s an accomplishment. In fact, Urban Meyer hasn’t even managed that during his tenure at OSU. Props to the Badgers, then, who were efficient on offense and opportunistic on defense. On the other hand, MSU actually outgained Wisconsin in this one, so there are also reasons for pause. Next week’s trip to Ann Arbor will give us a definitive answer on whether the Badgers are for real or whether their ranked opponents just aren’t as good as the preseason hype suggested they would be. For the time being, however, this one looks impressive.
2. Michigan (4) beats PSU (NR) 49-10 at home.
This was a classic beatdown of an overmatched opponent, kind of like all those losses that ended the 2010 season but in reverse. We even ran the same run play over and over again, just like Wisconsin did to us that year—and with the same result. The run game re-emerged and the defense looked monstrous. Both will be needed against Wisconsin next week, who look better than expected. Unfortunately, Speight still doesn’t look 100%. We'll need him to improve on this performance against what looks to be a much more capable opponent, though.
3. Nebraska (20) beats Northwestern (NR) 24-13 on the “road.”
Sure, the scoreboard implies wobbliness (especially considering how bad Northwestern have been to date). But this one wasn’t that close, as Nebraska turned the ball over twice within the red zone. Armstrong looked like a proper dual threat QB, and Nebraska looks like a serious contender for the Big 10 West. Up next: a very bad Illinois team.
Split Decision Wins
5. Purdue (NR) beats Nevada (NR) 24-14 at home.
On the one hand, Purdue won! By double digits! On the other hand, this was one of two games all season that the Boilermakers were expected to win. Given the state of the Big 10 West, though, other wins may happen. This year.
6. Minnesota (NR) beats Colorado State (NR) 31-24 at home.
Minnesota was adequate in this home win against unheralded Colorado State. No more, no less. The Gophers look like a team that wins the games its supposed to win and loses the games its supposed to lose. That’s probably enough to squeak by PSU in Happy Valley, but I wouldn’t be surprised either way.
7. Iowa (NR) beats Rutgers (NR) 14-7 on the road.
Kirk Ferentz earning that $48 million, week after week. Next up: another bad team that might keep it closer than it should be.
8. Rutgers (NR) loses to Iowa (NR) 14-7 at home.
While Iowa has seemingly reverted to their 2012-2014 pattern of dull plains mediocrity, Rutgers can take heart in the fact that it wasn’t destroyed by a team with a pulse. Up next: Darth Sidious puts Count Dooku out of his misery.
9. Northwestern (NR) loses to Nebraska (22) 24-13 at “home.”
10. Indiana (NR) loses to Wake Forest (NR) 33-28 at home.
#TeamChaos outgained the Demon Deacons 611-352, but five (five!) interceptions nullified all that. Somehow that’s fitting.
11. MSU (8) loses to Wisconsin (11) 30-6 at home.
MSU hasn’t lost at home like this since 2012, the year of Andrew Maxwell. But even that team had a dominant defense and okay offensive line. So while Tyler O’Connor did provide a spot-on Maxwell impersonation, which certainly contributed to the final score, the real story was Wisconsin’s domination in the trenches. Throw in Notre Dame’s home loss to Duke, and these Spartans look like a pale imitation of their forebears. Anything can happen next week, when MSU travels to Indiana.
12. PSU (NR) loses to Michigan (4) 49-10 on the road.
There isn’t much PSU fans can take to heart from this loss, which the Wolverines thoroughly dominated. For the life of me I can’t figure out why PSU keeps Franklin around. He’s either in over his head, a la Brady Hoke, or a bad fit for what the program has and needs, a la Rich Rodriguez. My money's on the Hoke analogy, as there was never much doubt about whether Rodriguez could run an offense or make viable in-game decisions. Either way, though, the relationship's just not working.
BYES: Ohio State, Illinois, Maryland.
Given extensive work commitments and a second “career” within the 80s synth music revival scene, I had decided to forego the annual diary series this year. But with multiple diary series AWOL, I figured I what the heck.
This year I’ll be reviewing the week’s best and worst performances in the conference, using boxing as a metaphor.
All contests fall into one of four categories:
- KOs, TKOs and Unanimous Decisions (i.e. emphatic wins/upset wins)
- Split Decisions (i.e. wobbly wins)
- Moral Victories (i.e. losses you can take heart in)
- Out Cold (i.e. losses that make pandas sad)
Note: this is a week-by-week thing, not a power ranking type thing. Previous performances only come into play when ranking within these categories. I will, however, comment on the team’s overall performance and outlook in the comments.
[Rankings in parentheses.]
KOs, TKOs and Unanimous Decisions
1. OSU (3) beats Oklahoma (14) 45-24 on the road.
Whether OSU is really that good or Oklahoma is just worse than expected is a matter of debate; as far as I’m concerned, it’s both. Oklahoma certainly has not looked like a playoff contender so far, and that probably contributed to the way this game played out. That said, this young OSU team actually looks better than they did a year ago this time, when the roster was heavy with NFL-bound upperclassmen. They may still drop an egg at some point, but this was a big test and the Buckeyes passed it with ease. A potentially/hopefully momentum-killing bye week beckons, after which Rutgers offers itself up for ritual sacrifice.
2. MSU (12) beats Notre Dame (18) 36-28 on the road.
MSU’s anemic victory over Furman led a lot of people to question whether this Spartan team lived up to the standard set by the last three. But even if this Notre Dame team was overrated going into the game, a road victory over a ranked team is no small feat—especially considering ND’s recent success in the series. Simply put, had MSU played like they did against Furman, they would have lost. Instead, MSU’s offense clicked and the defense got just enough plays out of its experienced linebacking corps to hold off a last ditch comeback attempt. We’ll see whether this was a one-off performance or something more sustainable when they play Wisconsin at Camp Randall.
3. Nebraska (NR) beats Oregon (22) 35-32 at home.
Nebraska has a good roster...by Big 10 West standards. They did last year as well, and probably should have won 8-9 games. Unfortunately, they were really, really unlucky, leaving them with a 5-7 record instead. Things seem to be going better in the fortune department now, as evidenced by this close win over a not-quite-what-they-used-to-be-but-still-ranked (barely) Oregon team. 9-3 seems attainable for the Huskers, who get Northwestern, Illinois and Purdue over the next four games.
4. Michigan (4) beats Colorado (NR) 45-28 at home.
By far the wobbliest of the four convincing victories, and a game in which a better-than-expected Colorado spent two quarters looking like they were primed for the upset. Then Colorado’s QB got hurt and Michigan wreaked its horrible vengeance upon the Buffaloes. Fans can either take refuge in the fact that the team has the skill and heart to recover from early adversity, or worry endlessly about the erratic safety, OL and QB play, all of which seemed to confirm preseason anxieties about those positions. Both are legitimate reactions to a victory that never seemed as emphatic as the final score implies. Next up: a mediocre Penn State team with one very scary running back.
Split Decision Wins
5. Maryland (NR) beats UCF 30-24 on the road.
Not a great win by any stretch of the imagination, but UCF is at least okay and Maryland were playing on the road. So that’s something I guess. Next up: a game.
6. Penn State (NR) beats Temple 34-27 at home.
Penn State decided to memorialize the man who allegedly kept quiet for decades about a serial child molester by eking out a home win against Temple. Can’t we just trade them to the ACC already?
7. Northwestern (NR) beats Duke (NR) 24-13 at home.
Northwestern finally gets a win—over a bad Duke team, sure, but hey—a win is better than another loss, I guess.
10. Wisconsin (9) beats Georgia State (NR) 23-17 at home.
It’s getting hard to remember that Wisconsin beat a top 5 SEC West team just two weeks ago. The Badgers looked downright bad as they barely scraped by winless Georgia State, and the murderers’ row portion of their schedule looms large. Will fans remember the opener if they go 6-6?
9. Rutgers (NR) beats New Mexico (NR) 37-28 at home.
Another week, another bad performance by Rutgers, who may not win another game all year.
10. Iowa (13) loses to North Dakota (NR) 23-31 at home.
Uninspired and uninspiring performance by the presumptive Big 10 West favorites. Iowa still has plenty of time to recover, but expectations for the season have officially been tempered. Iowa’s next two opponents—Rutgers and Northwestern—offer Kirk Ferentz a great pair of opportunities to right the ship and start earning that $48m extension.
11. Illinois (NR) loses to Western Michigan (NR) 34-10 at home.
Granted, WMU is a good MAC team, but they are still a MAC team, and any game in which you get steamrolled—at home—by a MAC team is a bad, bad game. Illinois is bad and should feel bad.
BYES: Minnesota, Indiana, Purdue
I'm back with a post-ANNIHILATION edition of these here power rankings. Those of you who like it when your fandom is validated by systems with numbers will undoubtedly enjoy this edition more than the last two, as I did. But more on that later...
First, a note on methodology. I won't rehash how this system works, but rather refer you to the explanation given last week. One note: I decided to implement the +/-0.5 weight for conference games. These are Big 10 power rankings, after all, so it didn't make sense to count Stanford and Michigan as equals in Northwestern's score. Here's how adding that bonus affected last week's standings:
- Northwestern: 6.0
- Iowa: 5.0
- Ohio State 3.0
- Michigan: 2.5
- Michigan State: 1.5
- Illinois: 1.0
- Minnesota: 0.5
- (tie) Wisconsin: -2.0
- (tie) Penn State: -2.0
- Indiana: -2.5
- Maryland: -3.0
- Nebraska: -4.5
- (tie) Purdue: -5.0
- (tie) Rutgers: -5.0
(So that MSU/Minnesota tie that made everyone feel icky? Not an issue anymore.)
Also note: in the interests of consistency, this will be the last methodological change implemented this season. Further suggestions will be considered in the offseason.
Post-Week 6 Rankings
1. Michigan (5-1 (2-0), AP #11): 6.5
(+ 3) As in most other systems that deliberately ignore preseason assumptions, this one now recognizes Michigan as the most accomplished Big 10 team. The Wolverines neither benefit from nor are penalized by any rescoring this week, outside the 0.5 conference win bonus now awarded for beating Maryland. But that win over Northwestern, which was ranked #17 in F+, is the single most valuable win by any Big 10 team so far this season (3.5). And what a win it was! Let's bask in its glory for a moment, and eagerly await Saturday's opportunity to add another.
2. Northwestern (5-1 (1-1), AP #20): 5.5
(-1) The good news for the Wildcats is that the 38-0 loss to Michigan doesn’t count against them (due to Michigan being classified as "good"), and thanks to previous, highly-scored victories over Stanford and Duke, they remain in second place. Besides, Northwestern isn’t out of the race for the Big 10 West, though—far from it. Though Iowa has the easier path, the ‘Cats have a chance to stake their claim when the two go head-to-head in Evanston next week. Lose, though, and it will be hard for Northwestern to recover.
3. Iowa (6-0/2-0, AP #17): 5.0
(-1) Iowa has impressed so far—with 4/6 of its wins scoring positively (and only the win over Illinois State producing a penalty). This might even be Kirk Ferentz’s best team since 2009, when they finished 11-2, won the Orange Bowl and ended the season ranked #7. But Iowa also has been gifted with an incredibly easy conference schedule. That won’t do many favors in these here power rankings, but after playing Northwestern next week, which looks like a tossup game right now, there aren't many bumps left in the road. A win on Saturday and it should be smooth sailing to the Big 10 title game.
4. Ohio State (6-0 (2-0), AP #1): 4.5
(-1) Last week's win against Maryland was at least less unimpressive, right? Right. But something's still wrong with the Buckeyes, and no one's quite sure what that is. an Interestingly, most observers see the previous week's close win over Indiana as indicative of Ohio State’s perplexing, yet lingering malaise. I tend to agree, but it actually helps the Buckeyes according to the rules of this system, as gave Indiana a boost in F+ (and thus leads to their reclassification as “solid,” which 1.0 points to the baseline and eliminates a 0.5 MoV penalty. Still, they'll need a quality win to boost their position here, and the weak schedule doesn't really offer that opportunity until the last two weeks (when they play MSU and Michigan back-to-back).
5. Michigan State (6-0 (2-0), AP #7): 3.5
(=) Another week, another near-loss against an inferior opponent—this time 31-24 over lowly Rutgers. I know there have been a lot of injuries, especially on the OL, but really it’s the defense that looks out of whack. And given how well Pitt has been playing, this *might* imply that Narduzzi was Fukunaga to Dantonio’s Pizzolato (albeit with a better working relationship). Take the former out of the equation, and you’re left with the True Detective: Season Two of Big 10 defenses. (For those paying close attention to the scores: this week the Spartans benefit from Central Michigan moving up from “not good” to “solid” last week. That adds 1.0 points to the baseline score and eliminates a -0.5 MoV penalty for a total swing of 1.5, which is a lot at this early stage.)
6. Wisconsin (4-2 (1-1), NR): 1.0
(+2) The Badgers scored 0.0 from their non-conference schedule, which was three cupcakes plus Alabama. Then the home loss against Iowa deducts a point, while the win at Nebraska (which F+ had at #34, if you can believe that) adds two. Still very much in the hunt for the West, though at this point I’d be surprised if they actually pull it off.
7. Minnesota (4-2 (1-1), NR): 0.5
(=) Minnesota beat up a bad Purdue team. That’s good? But Colorado State has been downgraded from “solid” to “not good” (which means the small MoV negates the road win bonus). That’s bad. Still, at least Ohio is “solid.” That’s good! The frogurt is also cursed….that’s bad.
7. Illinois (4-2 (1-1), NR): 0.5
Huh…turns out Middle Tenessee is “solid” this week, so that’s something positive.
9. Penn State (5-1 (2-0), NR): 0.0
(=) The Nittany Lions are our perfectly average team of the week, at 0.0 (having played two conference doormats negates a -1.0 MoV penalty for unconvincing wins over “not good” opponents). So I guess that’s progress for a team that looked like it might be one of the doormats itself just a couple weeks ago. The problem for PSU is that there aren’t a lot of likely wins left on the schedule—away at Maryland and home versus Illinois probably, but the rest (OSU, Northwestern, Michigan and MSU) are all playing above PSU’s pay grade right now. A 6 or 7 win season seems likely, even with 5 already in the bag. If that happens, then 2016 is a do-or-die season for James Franklin.
10. Maryland (2-4 (0-2), NR): -2.5
(+1) Despite a 2-4 (0-2) record, a 3-game losing streak and the coach getting fired, Maryland’s score is surprisingly not awful--and even helped them move up one spot. Why? Because 3/4 losses came to “good” teams (WVU, Michigan, OSU), and this system does not penalize for blowout losses to “good” teams.
11. Indiana (4-2 (0-2), NR): -3.5
(-1) Indiana demonstrates why the transitive property has limited application to college football: one week after almost upsetting AP #1 Ohio State, the Hoosiers get shellacked by Penn State. That’s like almost beating a Porsche 918 in a drag race, and then getting smoked by a Toyota Corolla.
12. Nebraska (2-4 (0-2), NR): -6.5
(=) Death by a thousand cuts.
12. Rutgers (2-3 (0-2), NR): -6.5
(+1) Getting Carroo back certainly helps, to the degree that a very fast kid with a bucket and access to a garden hose can help fight a raging warehouse fire. Also, Rutgers should get a boost next week: since opponent strength is based on last week’s F+ ranking, Washington State is still classified as “not good” (#94). That might change after WSU beat Oregon (i.e. MSU's "quality OOC win"). Look out, Nebraska!
14. Purdue (1-5 (0-2), NR): -7.5
(-1) Like Indiana, the Boilermakers took their best shot at one of the conference’s wobbly fat cats (MSU in this case)—only to get destroyed the following week by the congressman from average (losing 41-13 to Minnesota). This team is bad.
- Mean: 0.0 (woohoo!)
- Median: 0.5
- Range: 14 (-7.5 to 6.5)
This week's changes were more incremental than last time. Michigan vaulted into the top spot, Wisconsin clawed its way back into positive territory and Indiana took a dive, but otherwise things look more or less the same.
Of the games being played this Saturday, none are likely to really shake things up. Michigan or Michigan State will benefit greatly from a win, but the loser won't give up too much ground (seeing as how both are in the top 25 of F+). A PSU upset of OSU would be something, but does anyone see that happening, even considering OSU's malaise? I don't.
As far as our game goes, well, I'm fairly confident we're going to win. I know, I know--they've had our number for years. But our defense is better than their offense, and our offensive staff should be able to figure out their declining defense. But I wouldn't be shocked if we lost either--they were highly rated preseason for a reason, after all, and Dantonio is a very capable and motivated coach. Still, I'm thinking 27-17 to the good guys, or something like that. Maybe not even that close.
One final note: I'm going out of town this weekend, so I'm unlikely to do one of these next week. Might still happen, but in all likelihood I'll wait for the bye week. GO BLUE!
Welcome to your week five edition of these Big 10 Power Rankings! As discussed last week, these rankings are results based, in the sense that they judge what teams have actually done in games (and not how good they are perceived to be by the media). This diary will proceed as follows. First I will explain the methodology (including a major change from last week, as well as a proposed change for next week). Then I will present the rankings. Finally, I'll briefly outline some observations based on the results.
- 2 – win over “good” team
- 1 – win over “solid” team
- 0 – win over “not good” team/loss to “good” team
- -1 – loss to “solid” team
- -2 – loss to “not good” team
NOTE: This system starts by assuming every team is "baseline average," that is to say, every team is expected to beat "not good" teams, expected to lose to "good" teams and expected to win/lose to "solid" teams in roughly equal measure. Anything above that is rewarded and anything below that is penalized.
NOTE: This system does not reward teams for wins over “not good” teams, nor does it penalize teams for losses to “good” teams. The baseline average team is expected to beat the former, lose to the latter and break even against “solid” competition.
NEW: Last week several commenters suggested I make the system for determining “good,” “solid” and “not good” more transparent. So this week, instead of rating each Big 10 team’s opponents individually, I’m just using Football Outsiders’ F+ rating system, like so:
- Good: #s 1-25
- Solid: #s 26-75
- Not Good: #s 76+
Note: in order to avoid endogeneity issues, I’m using the F+ rankings from the previous week (i.e. from before the current slate of games were played).
- 0.5 – road win
- 0.0 – home win/road loss
- -0.5 – home loss
Margin of Victory Weight
- 1.0 – large win over “good” team
- 0.5 – large win over “solid” team/small win over “good” team
- 0.0 -
- -0.5 – large loss to “solid” team/small win/loss to “not good” team
- -1.0 – large loss to “not good” team
EXAMPLE: So a 6 point win over Northwestern this week (currently #17 in F+), would be scored as follows: 2.0 [no home/away weight] + 0.5 = 2.5. A 6 point loss to Northwestern would be scored like this: 0.0 – 0.5 [no weight for MoV]: -0.5.
Proposed Conference Game Weight
Unlike the human polls, this ranking system doesn’t distinguish between recent and older results. As a result, it also potentially overrates non-conference games relative to their importance as part of a conference power ranking system. So I’m wondering: does it make sense to add a +/- 0.5 weight for conference vs. non-conference games? That wouldn’t really change much right now, but going forward it would reduce the impact of early season results against non-conference opponents.
I’m not wedded to the idea, per se, though I think it might improve the system. I’ll implement it next week if you guys think I should, and leave things as is if the balance of opinion tilts that way.
Week 5 Rankings
[Note: the (+/-N) refers to movement up or down the scale since last week: +2 means a given team has climbed the rankings by two spots, say from #4 to #2 (i.e. it's inversely proportional to the numerical value of the rank).]
1. Northwestern (5-0, AP #13): 5.5
(=) Last week’s top ranked team does the most to improve their position this week by crushing “solid” Minnesota at home, but also benefits from previous opponent Duke moving up to #22 in week 4’s F+ rankings (which leads to their reclassification as “good”). Though most observers see Ohio State as the best team in the Big 10, Northwestern has—by far—accomplished the most through five weeks.
2. Iowa (5-0, AP # 22): 4.5
(+4) Iowa is week five’s biggest winner, moving up from #6 to #2. The most obvious reason for this is their (fairly lucky) road win against Wisconsin (#19 in F+). But the shift to using F+ has also benefitted the Hawkeyes in other ways, as previous opponent Iowa State barely squeaked into the “solid” category at #75 in F+ (and Pittsburgh is #50). It’s unlikely that Iowa State will remain in this category, so expect that score to decline somewhat. But Iowa is definitely better than expected.
3. Ohio State (5-0, AP #1): 2.5
(-1) A top five team by most national ranking systems, and the near unanimous preseason #1. Ohio State is undefeated, but have not impressed in victory. The Buckeyes remain at 2.5, as their road victory bonus for winning in Bloomington is canceled out by the small margin of victory over what F+ considered to be a “not good” (# 78) team going in to week five.
4. Michigan (4-1, AP #18): 2.0
(-1) No major change here except for a road win bonus against Maryland, as the system does not factor in large margins of victory against teams rated as “not good.” Still, getting a first road win under Jim Harbaugh is nice. Next week’s matchup against Northwestern provides an opportunity to make a major move upward in these rankings. It will also tell us a lot about where we are as a program.
5(t). Michigan State (5-0, AP #4): 1.0
(-2) Starting from a raw score of 2.0 (for wins over “solid” Oregon and Air Force), MSU is then penalized for failing to win convincingly against bad teams like Central Michigan and Purdue, while another MoV penalty cancels out a road win bonus against WMU. Bottom line, this system expects good teams to impose their will on inferior opponents and the Spartans have yet to do that in a single game. And they almost lost to Purdue (who are very bad). So it still remains to be seen whether MSU is a sleeping giant or paper tiger. A very tractable schedule, though, ensures that latter eventuality probably still translates to 9 wins and a decent bowl game. Bring on Rutgers!
5(t). Minnesota (3-2, AP NR): 1.0
(-2) I’ve never believed in this team, given that they graduated like 90% of last year’s offensive production (i.e. Cobb/Cobb/Maxx). Now Northwestern has exposed the Gophers for the average-plus team they are. For those paying close attention to scores, Minnesota has beaten two “solid” teams according to F+ (Colorado State and Ohio), but is penalized for the loss to Northwestern, since the Wildcats were classified as “solid” by F+ in week four (#26). In other good Gophers news, Purdue and Nebraska are up next.
7. Illinois (4-1, AP NR): 0.5
(+3) This week Illinois beat a struggling Nebraska, whose fans may be regretting the offseason coaching change right now. Prior to the game, though, Nebraska were rated “solid” (#38 in F+). Strangely, Middle Tennessee also qualifies as “solid” (#69 in F+). Nebraska is likely to be downgraded next week, but still—for a team that projected to be straight-up bad, Illinois looks surprisingly mediocre so far, and that’s an improvement over the Tim Beckman era.
8. Wisconsin (3-2, AP NR): -1.5
(-1) Badgers has a sad. On the other hand, the Big 10 West is pretty bad. Wisconsin should be okay, if not much better than okay.
9. Indiana (4-1 AP NR): -2.0
(-1) The Hoosiers definitely look better than expected, and came ever-so-close to upsetting the defending champs this week. But three unconvincing wins over teams that are clearly “not good” does hurt. Even still, Indiana has four very winnable games left on its schedule (away at PSU, Maryland and Purdue, and home versus Rutgers), so bowl eligibility looks to be in the cards.
10. Penn State (4-1, AP NR): -2.5
(+1) PSU may be 4-1, but they’ve struggled against 3 out of 4 “not good” opponents and lost to the only “solid” team they’ve faced. This is the kind of team that might have a surprising performance or two in them, but I only see one likely win on their remaining schedule (home vs. Maryland). The rest of the schedule ranges from tossup (home vs. Illinois) to near-certain loss (away at MSU, OSU, Northwestern). Bowl eligibility is still in question, pending next week’s match against Indiana.
10(t). Maryland (2-3, AP NR): -2.5
(-1) Maryland isn’t very good, but at least their losses are fairly explainable—both West Virginia and Michigan are rated as “good” by F+, and thus the beat downs are expected results vs. an average team, and Maryland, so far, appears to be a moderately below-average team. Sadly, though, the Terrapins really only have one more game on their schedule that I’d consider a likely win (away at Rutgers).
12. Nebraska (2-3, AP NR): -4.0
(=) This is not a good debut season for Mike Riley, though the fact that the Cornhuskers have been “in” each of their losses suggests that this team * might * be able to put it together at some point. Or they might collapse, like our 2009 team did midway through the Illinois game. There are only two likely wins left on the schedule (away at Purdue and Rutgers), so they’ll have to pull an upset if they want to make the postseason. Even odds on that happening.
13(t). Purdue (1-4, AP NR): -4.5
(=) Purdue is bad. How they almost beat MSU is hard to explain—maybe MSU isn’t that good, or maybe it’s just one of those mysteries, like how Ty Willingham’s very bad Washington teams consistently gave Pete Carroll’s USC a game but got shellacked by everyone else in the Pac-12. Unfortunately for the Boilermakers, this system does not reward closer-than-expected losses to “good” teams. On the other hand, it does penalize home losses to “solid” opponents—and Purdue has two of those (and the loss to VT was a blowout).
13(t). Rutgers (2-2, AP NR): -4.5
(+1) Rutgers “benefits” from not playing this week. Next week they’ll be the punching bag MSU unloads its frustrations upon. But hey--one dude might be out of legal trouble. That's something, right? Right?
- Mean: -0.3
- Median: -0.5
- Range: 10 (5.5 - -4.5)
Though this ranking system does not predict who would win in a head-to-head matchup (whereas F+ or the AP poll do attempt to do that), it does indicate whose early season records denote accomplishment, and whose do not. Northwestern and Iowa are the teams that have done the most so far, though few, I imagine, would rate them as best in conference. Still, right now it looks like the Big 10 West will come down to these two, and both look much better than expected.
These rankings also confirm what many of us have long suspected: that the human polls are overrating OSU and MSU based on preseason biases. The difference is that OSU has a much higher talent level than anyone else in the conference. By contrast MSU's problems strike me as more serious. Under Dantonio, MSU has relied on effective defensive scheme and a remarkable upcoaching system on both sides of the ball to paper over gaps in raw athleticism relative to elite opponents. This year the scheme, at least, appears to have moved to Pittsburgh. On the other hand, look at their schedule: if everything goes pear shaped, they still probably win 8 games. That's a nice cushion.
As far as Michigan goes, well, the system rates the BYU win higher but not much else. We need another win against someone with a pulse to demonstrate that we are really back, and not just a team that's going to hang around the bottom edge of the AP poll for the rest of the year. That said, this is as good a start as I've seen over the past decade. I'm quietly confident we are on track for a 9 win season, including a rivalry win (my guess would be over MSU).
Finally, the system also tells us not to buy Indiana (despite being game against OSU) or PSU at 4-1. As I see it, Indiana is headed for a respectable 7-5 season. PSU, by contrast, may struggle to earn bowl eligibility. The system is more bullish on Illinois, which just shows how terrible Beckman was.
...oh, and Rutgers is bad. Also Purdue. So MSU should feel bad about almost losing to them.
Okay, that's all for this week. As always, if you have some constructive suggestions, I'm listening. Also, please do tell me what you think about the proposed conference game weight!
Hi, I'm Eye of the Tiger. You may remember me from such defunct diary series as "Reading the Tea Leaves," "Zone Blocking Zealot" and "Yet Another CC Roundup!" With the new era starting here in Ann Arbor, I'd decided to start a new diary series--I just couldn't figure out what it should be. Then it hit me: power rankings! Only, I wanted to see what happened if you tried to eliminate biases based on past performances (i.e. last year) or preseason hype. And I wanted to take my own biases out of the equation as much as possible. So I came up with a methodology for a results-based ranking system:
1. All teams are scored on their results this year, and nothing else.
2. A baseline score is derived by associating results with numerical values, as follows:
- 2 – win over “good” team
- 1 – win over “solid” team
- 0 – win over “not good” team/loss to “good” team
- -1 – loss to “solid” team
- -2 – loss to “not good” team
[Note: "good," solid" and "not good" are also performance based, using the same methdology. That means I looked at every team that any Big 10 school has played and tried to score their performances across 4 games. Yes, it took a long time. And was kind of boring.
Notes on categories: "Good" means scoring highly on this scale, and is highly correlated with top 25 deisgnations in major polls and advanced statistical rankings (S&P, FEI, FPI, etc.). On this scoring system, it generally means any team scoring 1.5 or higher. "Not good" generally means any team scoring -1.5 or lower. "Solid" are the teams between 1.5 and -1.5. There aren't many of those in the Big 10 right now, but there are across all of the FBS. As the season progresses, at least a couple Big 10 teams now classified as "good" will end up reclassified as "solid." Possibly one or two of those now classified as "not good" will as well.
Also of note: designations may also change week-to-week. Oregon, for example, is classified as "solid" due to its losses to MSU and Utah; Utah is classified as "good" due to its wins over Michigan and Oregon. If Oregon were to finish the season 10-2, while Utah slid to 8-4, that would likely reverse--and affect Michigan and Michigan State's scores ex post facto.]
3. A place of venue weght is added:
- 0.5 - road win
- 0.0 - home win/road loss
- -0.5 - home loss
4. A margin of victory weight is added:
- 1.0 – large win over “good” team
- 0.5 – large win over “solid” team/small win over “good” team
- 0.0 - small win/loss over "solid" team; large win/loss over "not good" team"
- -0.5 – large loss to “solid” team/small win/loss to “not good” team
- -1.0 – large loss to “not good” team
[Note: "large" win is defined as a win by 20 points or more. This is a fairly arbitrary number, but one that seems--to me, at least--to be a reasonable indicator of a blowout.]
What's Being Measured
The purpose here is to rank teams according to what they've accomplished and not according to residual biases from preseason and/or the previous year. However, it does output some results that buck the conventional wisdom, and are largely a function of differences in schedule. That is to say, if two teams are both 4-0 and team X played better opposition than team X, it will be ranked higher--regardless of whether team Y is considered to be a more capable squad. These rankings thus do not predict who will end the season "best," just who has done the "most" in the tiemframe covered.
Planned Posting Schedule
I plan to update these power rankings either every 2 or 4 weeks--depending on how much time I have (which, between commuting to two jobs, marriage, parenting, actually watching football and writing freelance on the side isn't very much). But enough about that...
4 Week Rankings
1. Northwestern (4-0, AP #16): 3.5
Well there's one surprise! But if you think about it, it shouldn't be that surprising. After all, Northwestern may not be the most talented or heralded team in the Big 10 right now, but they've accomplished the most: beating a good Stanford team at home and a solid Duke on the road (a close win against Ball State is the only blemish). If you take away preseason hype and previous year bias, they have the best resume in the conference.
2. Ohio State (4-0, AP #1): 2.5
Last year's champion has taken care of business, with two victories over solid teams (VT and NIU), but doesn't have a victory on par with Northwestern beating Stanford. It won't get that opportunity until November 21, when it travels to East Lansing.
3. (tie) Michigan State (4-0, AP #2): 1.5
Michigan State's win over Oregon looks much less impressive after their dismantling by Utah, and the polls are likely overrating the Spartans. Meanwhile, injuries are starting to take their toll. But this is still a good team by Big 10 standards--they should end with a winning record in conference play.
3. (tie) Michigan (3-1, AP #22): 1.5
The loss against Utah is no longer working against the Wolverines, while the shellacking of BYU accounts for all of Michigan's points. Upcoming games against Northwestern and Michigan State will show us how far we've come in Jim Harbaugh's first year.
3. (tie) Minnesota (3-1, AP NR): 1.5
Another surprise for me--I don't personally find Minnesota all that impressive, but the loss to TCU doesn't really hurt them, while the road win over Colorado State scores well.
6. Iowa (4-0, AP NR): 0.5
A lot of people are wondering how good Iowa is. This system isn't terribly impressed so far. If they beat Wisconsin, though, that's another story...
7. Wisconsin (3-1, AP #19): 0.0
Wisconsin looked respectably enough in the loss to Alabama, but has only played cupcakes since--a fact that keeps its score low.
8. Indiana (4-0, AP NR): -1.0
For the record, this is as bad a score as a 4-0 team can get. Fall back to Earth imminent.
9. Maryland (2-2, AP NR): -2.0
I expected Maryland to grade out worse than this, frankly. But they are clearly trending downward, and with a hurricane and "weather-proof" Michigan team both coming to town this weekend, the death spiral may come fast.
10. Illinois (2-2, AP NR): -2.0
I'd say the same thing about Illinois, but a shockingly easy schedule could help the Illini stay in fighting distance of bowl eligibility, if not quite make it.
11. Penn State (3-1, AP NR): -2.0
The system doesn't think much of the Nittany Lions, and neither do I.
12. Nebraska (2-2, AP NR): -2.5
It's more surprising to see how badly Nebraska fares. I mean, they are not exactly good, but I'd still expect them to beat Maryland, Illinois or Penn State. Losing to BYU and failing to blow out Southern Miss at home hurt though...
13. Purdue (1-3, AP NR): -4.5
Purdue is bad. If they don't pull off a major upset or two, Hazel will be out of a job before the season ends. Apparently they think they have a plan for Michigan State. Somehow I doubt it, but okay.
14. Rutgers (2-2, AP NR): -5.0
- The mean score for all 14 Big 10 teams is -0.6 and the median is -0.5.
- The range is 3.5 - -5.0.
- There are 6 teams with positive scores, one with a score of 0 and 7 with negative scores.
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.