"Rodrick Williams Jr.'s 10-month old, 2-foot-long savannah monitor named "Kill" gets the RB some strange looks when they go for walks together."
The NCAA tournament is right around the corner and there isn’t much of a secret sauce for winning six games in a single elimination tournament. Have a future NBAer or three, make your three pointers and hope you don’t face a team who goes on a shooting tear.
But this post isn’t about basketball. College football doesn’t have to face anything like a six game elimination tournament and tends to have a lower game to game variance than basketball does. Be in the top 2 after 12 or 13 games and then win a game after a month off. This year it becomes finish in the top 4 and win two games. What the system has done is create some common threads among its last ten champions.
I am approaching this look at what it takes to be a national champion in two phases. This article will focus on the talent portion and what the recruiting profile of past champions has looked like. Next week I’ll look into some of the advanced stats for on the field performance.
I’ll use a similar methodology as I have before for this work. All players are given a rating from 0 (anonymous 2 star) up to 99 (consensus #1). The ratings are based on all available services at the time of a players signing. The star breakdowns are approximately
5 Star: 70-99 points
4 Star: 40-69 points
3 Star: 20-39 points
2 Star: 0-19 points
The roster is then adjusted for age. First year players only get 25% of their total, second year players get 75% of their points and any players in at least their third year on campus get 160% of their recruiting points applied to the team roster total.* A three star who breaks out still counts for less than a five star who is busted. If you’re on the roster, you keep the points all the way through. It’s not perfect, but it is consistent and quantifiable.
*These numbers are based on historical usage/production of players.
Rosters are then added up based on the profile and age of all players still on the roster for a given season. Each team and unit is then ranked and those rankings versus other teams in that season is what I’ll be using to measure the quality of talent for a given group. A player that has a position change from recruiting keeps his points but they are applied to their roster position, not their recruited position.
I’ll be looking at the champions from the past 10 seasons, a nice round number that happens to correspond to the time period that the best information is available on.
Find out how high the beef (offensive line) ranks on the secret sauce
Average Rank: 11th
Top 5: USC 2004 (2), Alabama 2011 (3), Florida 2008 (4), Alabama 2012 (4)
Outliers: Auburn 2010 (22), Florida St 2013 (24)
2013 Michigan Rank: 25th
Highest ranked Michigan roster: 2007 (1)
Offensive line is one of the toughest positions to project at the collegiate level, but the shear quantity of players on the roster still leads to a strong correlation between overall recruiting prowess at the position to team success. Four out of ten champions were top 5 level rosters for their seasons but this year’s Seminoles were the lowest rated offensive line unit to hold up the Crystal Football.
Wide Receiver & Tight Ends
Average Rank: 9th
Top 5: Alabama 2011 (2), Florida 2008 (5)
Outliers: Alabama 2009 (29)
2013 Michigan Rank: 34th
Highest ranked Michigan roster: 2009/10/11 (5)
Wide receivers are a tough position to differentiate the source and the cause but the more studies I do, the more I find wide receiver talent and experience to be highly underrated. Of the four position grouping on offense, none had a higher average rating than receivers and tight ends at 9th. In fact, the 2009 Alabama team was the only team ranked above 11th, even though only one team was higher than fifth.
Average Rank: 15th
Top 5: Alabama 2011 (3), Auburn 2010 (4)
Outliers: Florida 2006 (24), Texas 2005 (25), LSU 2007 (27), Alabama 2012 (34)
2013 Michigan Rank: 14th
Highest ranked Michigan roster: 2006 (1)
Like the common theme of underrated receivers is the overrated nature of running backs. My working theory on this is that running back success is tied so much to athletic differentiation. As the level of play increases, the margins to exploit that athleticism decrease, as does the value of the position. An elite high school running back can win a lot of games without much help, in the NFL I think you could swap anyone between the 2nd and 20th best back in the league and not see much difference. In college, six teams have won the championship with top 10 running back talent while the other four weren’t even in the top 20.
Average Rank: 18th
Top 5: Auburn 2010 (1), Florida 2008 (2), LSU 2007 (4)
Outliers: USC 2004 (52)
2013 Michigan Rank: 20th
Highest ranked Michigan roster: 2011 (7)
Quarterback is the one position that doesn’t really fit this study. Only one guy plays and depth is important in the long term but largely irrelevant in contributing to a championship season. More quality rated depth does increase the odds that not only do you have the best guy playing, but he is more likely to be a good option, not just the best guy on the roster. Outside of the top 3, no one else was higher than 10th.
Average Rank: 7th
Top 5: USC 2004 (1), Alabama 2011 (1), Florida 2008 (3), Alabama 2012 (5)
Outliers: Alabama 2009 (15)
2013 Michigan Rank: 22nd
Highest ranked Michigan roster: 2007 (1)
While none of the unit ranks averaged higher than 9th overall, the total for all offensive positions was higher at 7th overall. Having the best overall talent wasn’t necessary, but it was essential to be in the top tier. The first Saban championship at Alabama was the only one that featured an offensive unit ranked below 11th in talent.
Probably important to have some guys who can do this
Average Rank: 5th
Top 5: Texas 2005 (1), Alabama 2009 (1), Alabama 2011 (1), Alabama 2012 (1), LSU 2007 (2), Florida St 2013 (3)
Outliers: Florida 2008 (14)
2013 Michigan Rank: 22nd
Highest ranked Michigan roster: 2008 (5th)
Throughout the SEC’s championship run, defensive line frequently came up as the key source of strength. The numbers certainly back that up as defensive line has the highest average roster talent ranking of any position group on the field. Half of the last ten BCS champions have had top two defensive line rosters and only Florida 2008 wasn’t among the top 9.
Average Rank: 9th
Top 5: USC 2004 (1), Alabama 2011 (1), Alabama 2012 (1)
Outliers: Auburn 2010 (26)
2013 Michigan Rank: 16th
Highest ranked Michigan roster: 2005 (6th)
Outside out the four units noted above, the remaining teams have all been between 7th and 12th in linebacker rating. Based on the rankings for linebackers, it’s imperative you’re at the very top, but being in the top 10-15 is critical.
Average Rank: 10th
Top 5: Florida St 2013 (2), USC 2004 (4), Alabama 2012 (5)
Outliers: Alabama 2009 (19), Auburn 2010 (29)
2013 Michigan Rank: 16th
Highest ranked Michigan roster: 2006 (1)
Like linebackers, the defensive back lineups of national champs is concentrated in a high second tier level. 7 out of 10 champs have been ranked between 4th and 9th.
Average Rank: 5th
Top 5: USC 2004 (1), Alabama 2011 (1), Alabama 2012 (1), LSU 2007 (3), Alabama 2009 (3), Florida St 2013 (3), Texas 2005 (4)
Outliers: Auburn 2010 (15)
2013 Michigan Rank: 18th
Highest ranked Michigan roster: 2006 (5)
Seven of the last ten national champions have had rosters rated in the top 5 with two more at 7th. The only team that wasn’t in the top 7 still had the 6th rated defensive line and had Gus Malzahn and Cam Newton on the other side of the ball. Recruiting is important, defensive recruiting is really, really important.
Average Rank: 5th
Top 5: USC 2004 (1), Alabama 2011 (1), Alabama 2012 (1), Florida 2008 (5), Florida St 2013 (5)
Outliers: Auburn 2010 (10)
2013 Michigan Rank: 16th
Highest ranked Michigan roster: 2007 (3)
You know recruiting is a good metric of national champions when your outlier is still ranked 10th. When you extend the group to BCS Championship participants, there is still only one team ranked higher than 11th (2010 Oregon) to even make it to the title game.
Recruiting isn’t everything but this is a pretty conclusive look that if you are picking title contenders, you can shorten the list very quickly. All champions were in the top 10 in roster talent and all but Florida 2006 and Auburn 2010 had least one side of the ball in the top 4.
With the field expanded to four that at least theoretically opens the door to a more diverse group of candidates. Of teams ranked 3rd and 4th in the final BCS standings, 8 of 20 met the same criteria as the eventual champs. The average roster of the remaining 12 was over 30 about in line with last year’s Michigan State squad that ranked 26th. With four teams in the final playoff, there are certainly more opportunities for an non-elite talent team to win the title, but it will likely take two wins as an underdog to make it happen. I would expect over the next ten years to have a team or two outside of the mold to win a title, but the trend to remain largely intact.
Also clear from this study is the reinforcement that recruiting rankings mean more for defensive players and that the having highly touted and experienced players on the defensive line is the most critical position group on the field.
How Far Away is Michigan?
From a talent perspective, getting closer but still probably another year away. The 2014 team is projected to be #12 overall in roster rankings, with the offense coming in at #14 and the defense ranked #10. The critical defensive line spot is projected at #13. Oregon 2010 is the only team to make the National Championship without better rankings, but 11 additional teams have cracked the top 4.
Michigan’s projection is still climbing. 2015 will be the year that upperclass is dominated by the stronger Hoke classes and overall talent ranking should have a good shot at cracking the top 10. There are still plenty of other issues to be addressed, but from a purely roster stand point, 2015 should be the first year that Michigan’s roster fits the National Champion profile for the first time since Lloyd Carr left in 2007.
Next Week: the on-field metrics strongest correlated to BCS Champions
Matt Hinton has annually done the yeoman’s work showing year after year showing how recruiting rankings matter. Brian linked to this year’s edition already and it’s worth taking a look at. Building off of that idea, I wanted to look at which teams and coaches were the biggest over and under achievers in the business.
Every recruit gets a numerical rating from 0 (anonymous MAC recruit) to 99 (consensus #1 rated recruit) based on all available recruiting services.
Each player on the roster is given an adjustment factor based on how old they are. 75% reduction for first year players up to a 60% bump for upperclassmen.
This generates a total point value for each roster based on attrition, age/experience and recruiting rankings. The top teams since 2003 are dominated by Pete Carroll era USC. His 2005-09 teams take up 5 of the top 7 spots along with 2006 LSU and 2006 Miami.
Each game since 2003 is then compared against each team’s roster rating and the final score. The resulting best fit is 0.007 * (Home Team’s Roster Rating – Road Team’s Roster Rating)+4 –> Final margin. The R squared is .17.
There is obviously a lot of variance that goes into every game but there is no doubt that there is a strong correlation between recruiting success and team success. Today we’ll take a look at the teams and coaches that have maximized and wasted their talents the most.
Stars Don’t Matter (In a Good Way)
Using the above calculated fit, I looked at each true home game since 2003 and compared roster predicted results with actual game scores.
Over the last 11 seasons, the biggest overachieving teams have been:
|Team||Points vs Recruiting|
Not a lot of surprises on the list, five teams that have certainly had success beyond their recruiting profiles. Boise dominates the list with their amazing run of late and little to no major recruiting wins.
Northern Illinois made the list with four different coaches while TCU did it all under Gary Patterson.
Here is how the Big Ten stacks up (Big Ten games only):
|Team||Points vs Recruiting|
Wisconsin has been the clear leader and right behind are Iowa and the Big Ten’s biggest cheerleader for Star’s Don’t Matter, Michigan St. Despite being the Big Ten’s strongest recruiter, OSU has still managed to generate above average results from their talent. Michigan sits at the low end of the spectrum, down over 5 points per game versus talent and ahead of only Indiana and Illinois.
Other conference results from conference games only:
Best: Texas A&M (+13), Missouri (+7), Alabama! (+7)
Worst: Tennessee (-10), Ole Miss (-5)
Best: Missouri (+9), Oklahoma St (+7)
Worst: Kansas (-7), Texas A&M (-6)
Best: Oregon (+13), Oregon St (+9)
Worst: Colorado (-19), UCLA (-6)
Best: Virginia Tech (+11), Georgia Tech (+7)
Worst: Miami (-9), Duke (-5)
Best: West Virginia (+10), Virginia Tech(+9)
Worst: Syracuse (-7), Pitt (-3)
Ranking the Coaches
For some programs the coach and the team are interchangeable but here are how the 2014 Big Ten coaches have done as head coaches at all of their D1 stops since 2003.
|Coach||Team||Points vs Recruiting|
|James Franklin||Penn St||+12.0|
|Urban Meyer||Ohio St||+6.7|
|Mark Dantonio||Michigan St||+4.3|
The East and the West may be highly imbalanced in terms of recruiting profile but they are pretty balanced in what the coaches have done with the talent. James Franklin has the second shortest head coaching tenure on the list, so there are some sample size issues, but James Franklin has so far proven himself to be a significant over achiever with his talent. Coach Hoke sits in in the middle of the back at slightly above average. Hoke’s numbers have progressed at each stop in his career, going from –0.4 at Ball St, +1.0 at San Diego St and +4.9 so far at Michigan.
Lloyd Carr’s five eligible years would have put him towards the bottom of the list at –2.9. Carr presided over some stacked teams and Michigan’s style often meant closer games than the talent would dictate. Of all the disastrous metric for RichRod, this may be the worst. After going +14.5 at West Virginia, his three years at Michigan inverted and were –13.9 versus what the roster would project. In his two years Arizona he has moved toward the middle at +4.3.
Here are your top rated coaches of the last 11 seasons with at least 4 season.
|Coach||Points vs Recruiting||Primary School|
|Chris Petersen||+20||Boise St|
|Kevin Sumlin||+15||Texas A&M/Houston|
|Jimbo Fisher||+11||Florida St|
|Paul Johnson||+10||Georgia Tech/Navy|
|Frank Beamer||+10||Virginia Tech|
Looking Ahead To 2014
I am hoping to have a post up later this offseason about the “secret sauce” for BCS champions, but one thing they all share is a place in the top 10-12 spots of roster success. As noted above, there is lots of variance in the middle, but if you want to play for a championship, you have to have an elite roster. Projecting 2014 rosters is a bit tricky on a large scale, but here are my early projections for roster strength for this coming season.
|Projected Rank||Team||Conference||Coach Rating|
|5||Ohio St||Big Ten||+6.7|
Each of the five auto-qualifying conferences have at least one team on the list and the Pac 12 is the only one with a single entry. Unsurprisingly, the SEC leads the list with five entries.
If you are looking for early title favorites, take the top coaches ratings for the 12 on this list and that leaves Texas, Bama, Ohio St, Auburn and Florida St as the first teams I would look at.
Comparing individual classes of recruits can be a very challenging exercise. Due to each school’s different position each year and internal standards, classes can vary from mid-teens to over 30 signees for a given class at a given school. Last year I introduced my best take on the subject with the Nth best recruit approach.
Nth best recruit takes each player in a class and gives them a rating from 0-99 and then places those rankings in order, high to low. This way you can see how one class compares to another at each level. With Jabril Peppers in the mix, Michigan is going to compete with everyone at the top of the class but then drop into very good range as the recruits progressively move from high four star territory (Drake Harris) to high three star (Brandon Watson) with former gray shirt candidate Brady Pallante pulling in the final spot.
One change for this year is that I have normalized the classes so that they all show how the class is dispersed as if they were a 25 person class. You lose the quantity estimate, but over time, the spread of recruit’s rankings are more indicative of a team’s recruiting prowess than the number of offers they have in a year. If Michigan had five more offers, the odds are their curve would look very similar to what it does now.
*All signee lists were updated as of late Tuesday night and don’t reflect any signing day action
Michigan Under Hoke
Michigan’s last three classes have been highly consistent in terms of recruit quality from top to bottom. Last year’s class was the strongest through the top half and this year’s class is nearly identical in ratings to 2012’s class with Pepper’s the welcome exception.
On an average basis, Michigan’s classes have landed them roughly in lower part of the top 10 nationally. The improvement in these classes will begin to show up this year as my prior studies have shown that player in their third year or more on campus are far and away the biggest predictors of success. The 2012 class enters that zone this year and Michigan should move near the top 10 in terms of overall roster talent+experience this season and move into the top 10 indefinitely beginning in 2015.
The Big Ten
Leaders Legends East!
After a very close comparison last season, Michigan’s 2014 class is clearly lower rated than Ohio State’s. Michigan’s class falls behind immediately after Peppers and maintains a similar gap until the final few players.
Michigan sill is quite a bit ahead of the rest of the division. Penn St and Michigan St are in the next tier. There is a consistent gap between them and Michigan and Penn St’s class is currently slightly higher rated than Sparty’s across the first few spots.
The top third of Maryland’s class is in line with Michigan St and Penn St but they quickly fall into line with the bottom tier of Rutgers and Indiana.
The Race For #1
The five teams rated highest on most services
The bottom half of all the great classes this year are virtually in distinguishable from each other, except for Tennessee. While the Volunteers have put together a really nice class, this chart helps expose the formulas used by all the major services for team rankings. Tennessee is rated no lower than sixth overall by any of the four major services and although they have a very good class, you can see the separation between the great classes and theirs. Getting a giant class isn’t about being better at recruiting, it’s about having a fluky roster situation. Almost all coaches are going to recruit to their 85 (or more) roster spots so having more commitments is vastly overrated.
Ohio State has the weakest top end of all the four serious contenders but the middle third of their class is as good as anyone’s. Texas A&M’s class shows a big drop after the marquee headliners. LSU is strong throughout but Alabama, once again, clearly has the class from top to bottom. If you take any spot along the line of 25, the Alabama point is rarely behind any other team and no one is as consistently strong as they are.
Michigan’s Hall of Highly Touted
In the past two classes, Brady Hoke has inked eleven players that made the first or second team for Michigan’s Hall of Highly Touted.* After two loaded classes, this year’s smaller class was also lighter on top rated talent. Drake Harris cracked the second team as a wide receiver while all-everything signee Jabril Peppers was a no-brainer first team defensive back.
Peppers scored a 96.5 out of a possible 99 (unanimous #1 rated recruit) which makes him the highest rated recruit at Michigan in the internet era of recruiting. When you expand the field beyond Michigan to the whole Big Ten, Peppers comes in at #2 behind Terrelle Pryor (97.9) for highest rated Big Ten signee over the last 12 classes.
*The top players based on composite recruitindg rankings
We’re well into basketball season and football season is officially in the books, King KenPom has you covered on the basketball stats so before signing day hits, I wanted to take a quick look into the numbers behind the most watched teams of college football from 2013.
Sports Media Watch published a handy guide the ratings for the last football season. Unfortunately there isn’t good data for the Big Ten Network, The Pac 12 Network and CBS Sports Network, but all of the other major players are there. With nearly 400 games televised I dug into the viewer totals to see which teams had the most eyeballs on them, which weekends had the most viewers and other interesting tidbits.
The 2013 Most Watched Team Was…
Alabama. Not a big surprise. I looked at the numbers three different ways and Alabama came out on top in all three measurements.
11 of Alabama’s 13 games made it to a network or an ESPN. Overall, nearly 81 MM people watched those 11 games. On a per game basis, Alabama’s 7.4 MM viewers topped the country, as well.
|Total Viewers||Average Viewers||Included Games|
|#3||Ohio State||77.1||Ohio State||6.4||12|
|#5||Texas A&M||60.8||Michigan State||5.7||10|
Iron Bowl champion Auburn was a close second in both measures, with Ohio State rounding out the top three. Florida State just missed the top five average, as did Texas A&M. Michigan State cracked the top five with a strong finish. The Big Ten Championship was the fifth most watched game overall and the Rose Bowl was second only to the Title game. The most surprising entry in the list turns out to be our very own Michigan Wolverines. There were 37 other teams that were on the included channels more than Michigan, but with 6 million viewers per showing, a lackluster season didn’t affect the interest in the team.
As anyone who has followed TV ratings knows, when and where you’re on can be as important as who is on. Here is a look at the average viewers by time and channel type:
*Games on Holidays (Sun/Mon of Labor day, Th/Fr of Thanksgiving), Bowl Games and Conference Championship games excluded.
**Mirrored games are the combined totals between ABC and ESPN2
Unsurprisingly the networks draw better crowds, whether it is the networks or the games themselves is tough to parse out, but there is a clear pecking order as you move down the ladder.
So with a slot average, you can begin to look at which teams do well versus their time slot.
|Team||Variance vs Slot|
|#1||Alabama||+2.8 MM viewers per game|
Michigan jumps even higher on the list once you factor in the real estate it was given. Michigan did a full 50% higher than an average matchup for the six non-BTN slots it was given (Minnesota was excluded as a mirrored game and no Bowl games were included). Despite a lackluster season, Michigan’s ratings continued to be some of the best in the country.
Looking at the worst performers there are surprising names. No one was interested in the Kiffin drama as USC was over half a million viewers below their slot expectation. Notre Dame was burdened by high expectations, falling 750,000 viewers per game below their slot average. Notre Dame had the best real estate in the country, with 12 games broadcast and a sky-high 4.7 MM viewers per game expected.
The Most Popular Weeks of College Football
With weekly peeks and valleys, the numbers of people watching college football on Saturdays increased as the season progressed in 2013.
Total Saturday viewers increases by about 250,000 viewers per week until Thanksgiving and conference championship weekend when the ratings jump 35%
The bowls continue to be huge draws, with nearly 3.8 million viewers per non-BCS bowls, which is roughly equal to an ESPN night game but with twice as many instances (30 versus 14 regular season). The bowls aren’t going away, folks.
The BCS bowls and the national title game drew an average of 17 MM viewers.
Oklahoma versus Alabama and the Rose Bowl were both right around the average while UCF/Baylor and OSU/Clemson balanced out the national title game. Based on this, I would estimate a national semi-final could draw somewhere close to 20 million viewers.
Dave Brandon Must Be Proud
The brand is strong. Despite a disappointing season on the field, viewers turned out to watch Michigan games at level on par with national title contenders and controversial Heisman trophy winners. If the data continues to be readily available, it will be interesting to see how a more successful season (hopefully 2014) impacts Michigan’s overall ratings.
There are two main metrics by which I look at an offense, with different philosophies emphasizing different elements. I look at how well an offense does at converting first downs ([# of plays gaining a first down]/[# of first downs started]) and how good an offense is at stretching the field with explosive plays (Any yards gained beyond the first down line).
Below are the season numbers for each of Doug Nussmeier’s seasons alongside of the last 11 Michigan seasons for reference:
Blue=Michigan Red=Alabama Purple=Washington Gray=Fresno St
The top right quadrant is the Oregon zone. Offense that are really good at both. They consistently generate first downs but also produce big plays. The lower right quadrant is feast or famine. Lots of big plays, but can’t consistently convert first downs. The top left is probably where Brady Hoke wants to be, not consistently pushing the tempo or the big plays, but able to grind out first down after first down. The bottom left is for offenses that can’t do either well.
The Washington Years
As noted by Brian, in 2009 Nussmeier took over a tire fire of an offense. If there was a dot for 2008 Washington, you wouldn’t see it because it would be even lower and left of 2008 Michigan! His first year the offense improved along both dimensions and moved to bad but not awful. 2010 saw a bit more explosiveness but in year three the offense took a major step forward along both metrics.
Consistent improvement over three years is a very good sign. In fact, if you compare 2008-2011 Washington and Michigan, every year but 2010 is very similar and demonstrate a lot of positive improvement.
The Alabama Years
For a reference starting point, 2011 Alabama was most similar to 2004 Michigan. That was the team that beat LSU in the national championship. You can have an offense like that when you have a defense like that allows 37 bonus yards/game and an absurd 42% first down conversion (MSU was 59% this year).
In his first year turned the mediocre 2011 offense into a very good chain moving offense in 2012. For 2013 the moved further in that direction. The 82.7% first down conversion in 2013 was the third highest number since 2013. Some of that was due to the overall regression of defenses in the SEC in 2013. Texas A&M actually set the record this year with 82.9% conversions.
This does seem to be the coordinator who can do the things that Borges can’t while still fitting into Hoke’s desire for what his team’s offense looks like. Where Michigan has spent the last three years moving backwards, every single Nussmeier coordinated offense has shown year on year improvement. There aren’t going to be fireworks or a spread offense, most likely, but there should be a lot of first downs and hopefully consistent improvement.
From a watchability standpoint, this won’t be the fun offense many of where hoping for. It is a system that in the presence of elite talent and great defense can do everything you need it to. I have a working hypothesis that if your goal is national championships this is the way to go. Great defenses seem to have lower variance than great offenses. Put a team together around an elite offense and you get 10 amazing games and 2 games where the wheels fall off. Build it around a great defense and you are probably in all 12 games. Elite offense is great for making the leap from bad to good but if you want to get good to great, it has to start on defense. I’ll be pulling some more data this offseason to test this out.
1. The Six Factors
|Exp Score||Early Conv||Bonus Yds||Avg 3rd Dist||Adj 3rd Conv||Red Zone|
*All TD’s counted as 7 points, regardless of PAT outcome
Michigan finally got what it wanted on offense. They found the big plays, stayed out of bad third downs, converted the ones they had. Unfortunately that was paired with the defense flipping the script. After being a bend but don’t break unit, they mostly broke against the Buckeyes. The 71% early conversion was the second highest number of the Big Ten season behind only the 74% Ohio State achieved against Purdue.
2. Individual Game Scores
QBs: Opp. Adjusted EV, Win percent added (National Rank)
Devin Gardner: +23.9, +91% (2)
Braxton Miller: +18.9, +63% (3)
Derrick Green: –0.8, –3% (91)
Carlos Hyde: +7.4, +26% (3)
Jeremy Gallon: +12.9, +32% (6)
Jake Butt: +8.0, +29% (39)
Drew Dileo: +7.4, +26% (44)
Devin Smith: +5.5, +13% (88)
Although it was painful to watch Carlos Hyde abuse the interior of the Michigan defense again, it should be noted he is having an extremely underrated season. Hyde is currently +5.4 on the season, the best season average since 2003. Reggie Bush is the only other player to crack +5 in a season and only JJ Arrington and Melvin Gordon have been +4. It is very difficult for a running back to create significant value, especially over a large number of carries, but Carlos Hyde has done it at a level not seen in the last decade.
Jeremy Gallon finished the year first among all Big Five receivers nationally at +8.5. His omission from the First team All Big Ten was appalling. Devin Funchess finished the year fourth among all players listed as tight ends and 83rd for all players with a +4.6 receiving.
Devin Gardner’s season has certainly been up and down, but he currently holds two of the top six opponent adjusted games on the season (Ohio St and Indiana) and 3 of the top 50 (including Notre Dame). If Michigan can shore up its offensive line and Gardner can protect the ball, he should be in line for a big step forward, even though this season nearly cracked the top 10 for quarterbacks.
There are three key ways I evaluate quarterbacks, EV+ which is an opponent adjusted look at how many points per game a QB is worth versus the average offensive play, WPA which is a measure of when those plays occurred and their contribution to the game result and point versus team replacement which is a measure of taking one player’s plays and replacing them with the average play that didn’t go through them. Devin Gardner was one of only two players to rank in the top 15 in all three metrics, Johnny Manziel being the second.
Devin’s EV+ for the season was +7.0, 12th in the country (Petty +12.3, Winston +10.9 and Manziel +10.4). His total win percent added was +440%, 3rd in the country (Carr +510%, Manziel +450%). His points versus team replacement was 103 points which was also third (Gilbert SMU +168, Schroeder Hawaii +127). Devin Gardner has his rough moments but there aren’t more than a handful of players this season I would trade his output for, let alone his perseverance.
3. Game Chart
6. +13% Gardner to Gallon for 84 yards
5. –13% Miller to Smith for a 53 yard touchdown on 3rd and 10
4. +15% Gardner hits Jake Butt for to tie the game at 35
3. –15% Braxton Miller runs for 33 yards on the opening play of OSU’s final drive
2. +21% Gardner to Toussaint for 29 yards to set up the final touchdown
1. –35% Michigan’s two point attempt fails
4. Ron Zook Dumb Punt of the Week
Last weekend, Hawaii punted from the Army 31 and it may have been the right call. Facing a 4th and 3 with about 30 seconds left, Hawaii held onto a 7 point lead in what would end up being their first win of the season. A first down would have ended the game, but after starting 0-11, Norm Chow’s Rainbow Warriors punted away, giving Army a 95 yard field and 24 seconds to try and tie the game. Most of the time this would get a dumb punt of the week, but we’ll give Hawaii a pass after this season.
Vanderbilt trailed Wake Forest by 3 early in the second half when the Commodores faced a 4th and 3 from the Wake 38 and opted for the punt over the try. Vanderbilt went on to win and Jim Grobe stepped down after the game. It’s hard to give the dumb punt to a winning team except in the most egregious cases.
Looking west, Colorado has hit on hard times of late, but 4 wins this year is actually a step forward. This weekend they trailed Utah by 14 and faced 4th and 2 at midfield. With seven minutes to go, down 2 scores, a makeable distance, going is not that hard of a call, right? Colorado decided that they didn’t want to risk it and punted away. Three minutes later they got the ball back, still down 2 scores, at the same spot. They got best case scenario and cost themselves 3 out of 7 minutes left.
Colorado gets your Ron Zook Dumb Punt of the Week
5. The Shutout Streak
I raided Brian’s mailbag for a question:
Drew Hallett's blogpost about the non-shutout-streak mentions that Michigan is the most recent team to shutout Illinois, Indiana, MSU, Minnesota, OSU, and PSU, which is a neat stat.
I was wondering if there was any easy way to find which D1 team is the holder of "most recent shutout of the most other teams"? Seems like an interesting trivia answer to compute. Any idea?
Michigan’s six last shutout number is second in all of football. The fact that none of the six were against cupcakes makes it even more so. When the divisions switch next year, Michigan will have the last shutout against all four division foes from the 2013 Big Ten.
After crawling through the sports-reference.com archives, I found that the six team total is the second highest. Alabama currently holds the record with nine, tied at six against conference foes and adding three cupcakes to the total. Eight of the nine have come while Nick Saban was the coach.
For those looking in the rear view mirror in case Michigan gets shut out, the longest other active streaks in terms of dates (I didn’t bother to go to games) are:
Florida vs Auburn, 10/29/88
TCU vs Texas, 11/16/91
Air Force vs Ole Miss, 12/31/92
Ohio St vs Michigan, 11/20/93
Michigan has a full four year head start on Florida, but if both of the two teams survived this year’s offensive woes, it seems like the streak could last for a while. A few other observations:
- Ohio St, Michigan St, BYU, Texas, Mississippi St, Army, Oklahoma St and Auburn were all goose egged by rivals
- Four teams have their last shutout in a bowl games, besides LSU in the championship game all three others were on NYE games. Watch out if Michigan ends up playing on 12/31, it’s apparently the bowl day when offense’s take the whole night off.
- Behind Alabama and Michigan, Oklahoma has five last shutouts, followed by TCU, Ohio St, Nebraska and Florida St with 4.
- The median shutout is Tulsa’s 45-0 loss to Oklahoma on September 19, 2009
If you are curious how recent shutouts have occurred, here is a histogram of the season of the last shutout for every team in the FBS:
1997 and 2000 were apparently really good year’s to get shut out.
6. Prediction – Big Ten Title Game Edition
|Exp Pts||Conv Rate||Bonus Yards||Red Zone|
|OSU Off||27.0 (63/5)||81% (10/1)||185 (11/1)||5.5 (29/3)|
|MSU Def||22.7 (9/1)||59% (2/1)||90 (6/2)||4.0 (7/2)|
|MSU Off||29.4 (18/1)||70% (78/10)||113 (98/11)||4.4 (113/12)|
|OSU Def||22.8 (11/2)||72% (67/9)||115 (24/5)||5.3 (83/10)|
As much as I don’t want to watch this game for Michigan related reasons it fascinates me for other reasons. Elite shut down defenses aren’t built with three star defenses. It’s been done on offense, but rarely on defense. Michigan State has crafted their defense into an elite offense strangulation machine. They have not played a dynamic offense like Ohio St yet this year.
While the Michigan St defense’s attempt to shutdown Braxton Miller and Carlos Hyde will be the matchup everyone will be watching, I think the game will be won on the other matchup. Ohio St’s defense is an OK unit, but the Michigan St offense still isn’t great. They are in the bottom three in the three key offensive metrics and while the Buckeyes don’t have Michigan State’s defense, they should have enough to keep things in check. I think the Spartans would need to go at least +2 in turnovers/special teams swing plays to pull this one out.
Ohio State 28 Michigan State 20