Should Devin Gardner take a redshirt or play in his freshman year? The answer to this question depends upon how much impact you think he might have in 2010, versus how badly we will want him to play in 2014 as a fifth year senior instead of a new starter. We don’t know what he will do in college and we most certainly don’t know what he will be like five years from now. However, one thing that we can do is look historically at the <?xml:namespace prefix = st1 ns = "urn:schemas-microsoft-com:office:smarttags" />Michigan football team in the years where they have had a fifth year senior quarterback at the helm. This represents a hypothetical 2014 for a Devin Gardner led team. Then, we can compare those results to the years where Michigan has had a new starting quarterback. This represents a hypothetical 2014 for a Michigan if Gardner leaves after the ‘13 season.
Let’s look at fifth year senior QBs in the last 30 years against our two biggest rivals, and the bowl game results.
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Let’s tally up those results, shall we? In the last 30 years, we are a combined 13-2-1 vs. MSU and OSU when we have a fifth year senior starting at quarterback. In those eight seasons, we made a BCS bowl game all but once, and we have won four of those (for those of you in Columbus – that means we won a BCS Bowl game 50% of the time). Yes, yes, I know that the BCS didn’t exist before 1998, but I think you get the point.
Only three times did we not win vs. OSU and MSU. Wow. I should point out that in two of those games, the 5th year senior did not play the whole game. In 1992, Elvis Grbac got injured in the first half with only two pass attempts. In 1999, Tom Brady sat out a little more than a quarter in place of Drew Henson.
Now, let’s take a look at the results the last 30 years when we have had a new starter at quarterback:
|1987||Brown||Loss||Loss||Hall of Fame||Win|
|1993||Collins||Win||Loss||Hall of Fame||Win|
In the last 30 years, we are a combined 9-17 vs. MSU and OSU when we have a new starting quarterback. In those thirteen seasons, we made a BCS game only once, and we lost it (for those of you in Columbus – that means a 0% success rate). 9-17 vs. MSU and OSU, and only one Rose Bowl in thirteen seasons. Wow, that really sucks. 8 of MSU’s 9 victories against us in the last 30 years have come in a year where we had a new starting quarterback. This is a crappy trend that is consistent over all four Michigan coaches in the 30-year period. Please note that I left out 1988 because even though Michael Taylor was technically a new starter, senior Demetrius Brown finished the season with victories in Columbus and Pasadena.
So what does this mean for Devin Gardner? Ideally, Forcier will be a four-year starter, which means that Gardner might take over the team in 2013. If history is any indicator, that means 2013 will be a mediocre year in which we split the two big ones, at best, and have almost no chance at a BCS game. If we have another new starter in 2014, expect the same. On the other hand, if Gardner is playing as a fifth year senior, expect lots of misery for the residents of Columbus and East Lansing and a BCS bowl game.
I think that my opinion on this matter is clear. Devin Gardner needs to take a redshirt, if at all possible.
It's a good thing that Michigan State is favored this weekend. How come? It is because of a strange statistical anomaly. The underdog in Michigan's road openers for more than 20 years has an uncanny knack of beating the spread, and very often pulling the upset. Here is a history of Michigan's road openers since 1986. Notice how the favorite almost never covers the spread. In most cases, it's obvious just by glancing at thes core whether the underdog beat the spread. I have left a few games open, because I don't know how to find spreads for really old games, and some of these were close. Edit -- I have updated this diary, thanks to the information in some of the comments below...
1986 – <?xml:namespace prefix = st1 ns = "urn:schemas-microsoft-com:office:smarttags" />Michigan enters the game against Notre Dame as a heavy favorite and escapes with a 1-point victory. Underdogs beat the spread (1-0) Edit: we were actually a 7-point favorite
1987 – Michigan loses at Michigan State. I can’t find any documentation, but I’ll bet we were favored in this one, so I’ll give this one to the underdog (2-0)
1988 – Michigan loses by two to Notre Dame. I don’t know what the spread for this one was either, but two points sounds like it might have been right since both teams were ranked highly, so this one is an unknown. Edit: we were a three-point dog.
1989 – Michigan beats a crummy UCLA team by 1 point. Once again, underdog beats (3-0)
1990 – Michigan loses to ND by four. Both teams were top 5 ranked, but since the game was in South Bend, ND was probably a small favorite. I'll say that they covered (3-1) Edit: we were actually a five-point favorite. Seems weird, but once again, the 'dog beats the spread.
1991 – Michigan comes out flat against 4 TD underdog Boston College but wins by 22. I’m pretty sure that this was an underdog victory vs spread (4-1)
1992 – Michigan is a slight underdog against Notre Dame and they beat the spread with a tie (5-1)
1993 – Michigan is favored to beat Michigan State and loses (6-1)
1994 – Michigan is the underdog to Notre Dame and wins (7-1)
1995 – Favored Michigan destroys Illinois. Favorite actually covers. (7-2)
1996 – Underdog Michigan upsets Colorado (8-2)
1997 – Michigan massacres Indiana by 37. Favorite covers (7-3)
1998 – Underdog Notre Dame destroys Michigan in South Bend (8-3)
1999 – Michigan beats Syracuse by 5. I don’t know what the spread for this one was, since we lost to them badly the year before and it was in the Carrier Dome. This one is an unknown. Edit: We were favored by 6, so underdog beats spread.
2000 – Underdog UCLA upsets Michigan, starting a long, horrible road opener losing streak for Carr (9-3)
2001 – Michigan loses by 5, but was a touchdown ‘dog, if I recall (10-3) Edit: turns out we were only underdogs by 3, so Washington did, in fact, cover it.
2002 – Underdog Notre Dame beats Michigan (11-3)
2003 – Underdog Oregon beats Michigan (12-3)
2004 – Underdog Notre Dame beats Michigan (13-3)
2005 – Underdog Wisconsin beats Michigan (14-3)
2006 – Underdog Michigan beats Notre Dame. (15-3)
2007 – Heavily favored Michigan escapes Evanston with a 12-point victory over Nortwestern. I don’t know exactly what the spread was, but the ‘Cats were coming off of a loss to Duke and then a 58-7 loss to Ohio State, so I’m sure the spread was more than 12. (16-3)
2008 – 2-point underdog Notre Dame beats Michigan. (17-3)
That’s 17 games where the underdog covers, and 3 games where the favorite covers. That’s an 85% success rate for the underdog! Since 1998, the underdog is undefeated against the spread (except for maybe ’99?) I may have gotten one or two of the older games wrong and I have a couple of unknowns. Even if a few games go to the favorites, it’s still an incredible anomaly. Especially when you consider how refined betting spreads usually are and how tough they are to outpredict. This phenomenon can’t just be summed up as “Michigan underachieves in first road game”, because we have covered the spread as the underdog at least every time since 1992, pulling upsets against Notre Dame twice and Colorado in 1996.
Edit: Actually the underdog is 20-3 over this time span.
Last I saw, we are a 3-point underdog to Sparty. If you’re a betting man, bet on Michigan.
If you are placing a bet on who you will think will win the Big Ten, you might want to avoid betting on Northwestern or Minnesota. If someone offers you the under-over on wins, take the under. Is it because of who they lose off of the 2-deep? Is it because of coaching or talent? No.
Why then? It is because they don't play Michigan this year. Now, you might think that not playing Michigan is usually good for your record, but for some reason, history demonstrates the opposite. Michigan has an uncanny knack for playing Big Ten teams when they are good, and avoiding them when they are really really bad. It's almost as if the schedule is made up by somebody who has magical foresight and then purposely rotates the bad teams off of Michigan's schedule. Michigan already has a tough draw by facing Ohio State every year. In addition, our game with Penn State is like a de facto protected rivalry. Because of all of these factors, we have one of the toughest intra-conference schedules on a yearly basis.
Since the Big Ten expanded in 1993, there have been 16 seasons, and 2 teams rotate off of the schedule each season. Do the math, and that means that there have been 32 Big 10 teams that have rotated off of our schedule. Want to take a guess as to how many of those teams have ever won or shared a conference title? The answer -- none. 16 years, and not once has a team won or shared a title in a year where they did not play Michigan. Even though we frequently rotate off the doormats of the league like Indiana, wouldn't you think that just once out of all those times, somebody would have stepped up and won or shared a championship? Nobody has ever won 7 conference games, and only four times has somebody won 6 conference games (1996 Iowa, 1997&1998 Purdue, and 2004 Wisconsin). Since 1993, we are sporting an impressive .727 Big 10 winning percentage, but nobody has ever take advantage of not playing us to go to a BCS Bowl. Nobody has ever even made it to the Citrus Bowl! Only two teams have made it as high as the Outback Bowl (Wisconsin '04, Iowa '08).
Let's compare winning percentages for various programs when they play Michigan against their winning percentages when they don't play Michigan. For this analysis, I am only using Big 10 winning percentage, since non-conference scheduling has so much variation that it can distort the results. For the "did play Michigan" years, the head-to-head game against Michigan is removed from the analysis so that these years can be validly compared to the "did not play Michigan" years.
Winning percentages in the "did not play Michigan" years: .500
Winning percentages in the "did play Michigan" years: .643
Winning percentages in the "did not play Michigan" years: .354
Winning percentages in the "did play Michigan" years: .214
Winning percentages in the "did not play Michigan" years: .094
Winning percentages in the "did play Michigan" years: .440
Winning percentages in the "did not play Michigan" years: .188
Winning percentages in the "did play Michigan" years: .745
Winning percentages in the "did not play Michigan" years: .458
Winning percentages in the "did play Michigan" years: .586
Winning percentages in the "did not play Michigan" years: .563
Winning percentages in the "did play Michigan" years: .316
Winning percentages in the "did not play Michigan" years: .625
Winning percentages in the "did play Michigan" years: .429
Winning percentages in the "did not play Michigan" years: .156
Winning percentages in the "did play Michigan" years: .536
Winning percentages in the "did not play Michigan" years: .371
Winning percentages in the "did play Michigan" years: .494
There are a few teams that slightly buck the trend, but that trend is overwhelming. Now I'm not an expert statistician, but a difference in winning percentages of .123 with a huge sample of 8 teams over 16 seasons has to be very significant. Remember in 2003 when we thought we were finally getting a break by having Penn State rotate off of our schedule for 2 years? They went 3-13 in those two years. Ouch. Joe Paterno has never had a losing conference record except for when he has avoided playing Michigan. The differences for Illinois and Northwestern are drastic too. Illinois' conference record when they avoid us is a futile 3-29. Northwestern's is 5-27. We have played all of Kirk Frerentz's great teams from 2002-2004, and other than 2004, we played all of Barry Alvarez's best teams too.
What's the point of all this? None, I guess, except that for some reason, Michigan usually misses teams when they are down and plays them when they are up. Since we don't play Northwestern and Minnesota this year, look for those teams to inexplicably suck.