Matt Barkley, Giant Jimmy Clausen and Shane Morris
Up until late last season, most Michigan fans were preparing for the possibility of starting this season in the hands of a true freshman quarterback. Prior to last season’s Nebraska game, this season was shaping up to feature a quality quarterback competition. Devin Gardner was the former five star dual threat quarterback. He had looked shaky in his brief appearances and during the Spring Game. At the time, some were wondering if his current stop over at wide receiver could be a more permanent move. Russell Bellomy was the last minute addition to Michigan’s first recruiting class under Brady Hoke. His physical tools were limited but he had put up a solid showing in the previous spring. Bellomy and Gardner were still largely unknowns as college quarterbacks at the time, but what was known didn’t lead many to think there was a strong option on campus. For many, the hope for the 2013 quarterback position rested in five star commitment Shane Morris.
Everything changed at the Nebraska game. Denard Robinson was injured and with Devin Gardner largely at wide receiver, Russell Bellomy got his shot. Bellomy struggled mightily, Gardner was permanently moved back to quarterback and produced a fantastic closing stretch. Meanwhile, high school senior Shane Morris came down with a case of mono and saw his stock slide back with a limited senior year.
Now the picture is much clearer. Devin Gardner has locked down the starting spot, Russell Bellomy tore his ACL, and Shane Morris likely will miss out on a redshirt season, but will be able to spend some time learning from the sideline before being thrown into live action. MCalibur did a great job looking at what Devin’s season could look like. But what would the world look like if Shane Morris was in a position to take over just months after his Senior Prom.*
*This fulfills my professional obligation to reference Senior Prom in any article about true freshmen.
The Short History of Success
The answers aren’t pretty so there isn’t any point in sugar coating. I looked at true freshmen quarterbacks since the 2003 season that played at least 10 games and averaged at least 20 plays (passes+rushes). During that time only eight qualifying quarterbacks have had a positive PAN (Points Above Normal, Opponent Adjusted). Only three have been greater than +1. For reference, last year there were 58 quarterbacks who had positive PAN with at 20 plays per game. There obviously aren’t a ton of true freshman playing most of the snaps in a given year, but eight players in eleven seasons to be above average is a tiny number.
Four of the eight were from BCS programs and of those Robert Griffin, Tyrod Taylor and Terrelle Pryor all had a rushing portion of their game that really helped them. That leaves one pro style true freshman BCS quarterback in the last 11 seasons who had a positive PAN. That player was Matt Barkley in 2009. It should also be noted that the 2009 USC offense was the most highly ranked offensive unit in terms of recruiting profile in the internet era of recruiting. And it’s not that close. Surrounded by all of that talent a true freshman Matt Barkley had a PAN of +1.1. For a 2012 comparison, +1.1 is right between David Ash of Texas and Tevin Washington of Georgia Tech. Over 11 years, that is the best case scenario for a player in Shane Morris’ situation. And although the pipeline is beginning to fill up, the 2012 Michigan offense probably isn’t quite as loaded as Barkley had in 2009.
If you include the dual threat quarterbacks, the best BCS season was Terrelle Pryor’s first
professional season at +2.7. At nearly 3 points above average per game, Pryor’s value moved him into Top 30 range, along the lines of Matt McGloin at Penn State last season. Here is the full list of eight who managed positive territory.
|Terrelle Pryor||Ohio St||2008||+2.7|
|Tyrod Taylor||Virginia Tech||2007||+0.4|
|Nate Davis||Ball St||2006||+0.3|
|Spencer Keith||Kent St||2009||+0.2|
The Long History of Failure
With only eight players passing the average mark, that leaves the rest to fall below. The average season for all other true freshmen quarterbacks was nearly –3. The worst was Jimmy Clausen’s 2007 season at –8. The average performance is on par with Zach Mettenberger’s performance at LSU and if you watched a good LSU team at all last year, you knew none of their success was due to him. Clausen’s awful 2007 would have barely edged out Sean Schroeder of Hawaii to escape being the worst quarterback performance of the season.
The lack of success of true freshman isn’t necessarily indicative of future failure. Even Jimmy Clausen made an All-American list and got drafted in the second round. Teddy Bridgewater, Braxton Miller, Chad Henne, Matthew Stafford, Brady Quinn and Josh Freeman all turned below average true freshmen seasons into great college careers and/or high draft selections.
What it Means for Michigan
Thank goodness for Devin Gardner’s breakout performances. No matter how good a true freshmen quarterback is and how good their supporting cast is, the first season they are going to be a limiting reagent for the offense. In the coming weeks I am hoping to get a look at quarterback career progression to see if there is any sort of an optimal career path where some experience can avoid some of the struggles noted above but still provide the opportunity to get elite talent like Shane Morris on the field as much as possible. Chances are Michigan’s current quarterback timeline should fit nicely into a high value historical path. A year or two to develop behind Devin Gardner combined with Morris’ strong recruiting profile mean that he should be in an excellent position to succeed when his time has come. Luckily for us, that doesn’t have to be this year.
Dr. Hamlet III, consensus 6 star recruit
For the 2013 signees, the average Michigan commitment occurred on April 16th. The only other years a program has bested that average was in the heyday of the Texas Junior Days. This year has been a bit slower than last but that was almost certain to happen. In fact, prior to last season, Michigan’s previous earliest average commitment was for the 2012 class when the median decision date was in mid-July.
Jabrill Peppers’ commitment brought the 2014 class up to ten commitments (excluding Brady Pallante from the 2014 numbers). Barring an unlikely wave of Rodriguez level attrition the 2014 class should be over half way to an 18-19 member class.
The Seasons of Recruiting
Over the last five years, here is how the top ~500 recruits for the class have committed by commitment month:
The recruiting cycle typically begins slowly in March, sees a bump in April (Spring Game commitments?) before dropping back in May. The start of the summer sees another increase as players are typically between school and fall camp. The activity really dies down through the heart of football season before ramping up over the final three months of the cycle. The median Top 500 recruit typically commits sometime in August.
Michigan is clearly still ahead of this cycle for the 2014 class, even if they are behind last season’s breakneck pace.
Comparing 10 commitments mid-cycle isn’t a truly valid comparison but just to see how this class has compared to Hoke’s other classes I did it anyway.
A consensus top 10(ish) and a consensus top 100 sure help out the curve. The top end of the 2014 Michigan recruiting class has already been established as the best during Hoke’s tenure in Ann Arbor. The rest of the group is a bit behind the last two years but that is mostly due to comparing a whole 10 member class to date versus the top 10 from prior seasons. The fact that the comparison holds up as well as it does speaks to the start the coaching staff have had to this cycle.
So where does this project out to? I projected an 18 player class with the following players adding their names to Project135.
Unknown Top 150 Defensive Back
Unknown Top 150 Wide Receiver
Unknown Top 500 Offensive Lineman
Unknown Top 500 Running Back
Unknown Top 500 Linebacker Chase Winovich
Wide receiver and defensive back both have several strong options still on the board and a top level rating was assumed. For linemen, linebacker and running back the options are bit less clear and I projected more of a 3/4 star borderline type of player. Westphal and McDowell are both consensus Michigan leans and Da’Shawn Hand is strong possibility and why not!
The top end of this potential class is a clear step above the 2013 class and equal in the middle. The drop at the tail end is a combination of small class effect and some conservative estimates on the remaining unfilled positions in the class. Continuing with the annual “Everything in the Offseason is a Positive Thing” theme, a minor lag in the tail end of the class isn’t a bad thing. To me it can be an indication that the staff is actually evaluating talent and looking for players they want as opposed to opening up the 247 composite rankings and offering down the list.
Top Class Potential
Not to be the burster of bubbles but it ain’t happening. This class will be too small to have a shot at the overall title. Over the last twelve cycles Rivals has only had 10 classes ranked in their Top 10 with fewer than 20 commitments. Only 2007 (2nd) and 2009 (4th) USC have managed to crack the top 5. To have any shot attrition will have to force the class size into the 20s and even then it will probably take 22-23 to make it happen.
Is this a negative thing? Not really. You sign the best players you can with the scholarships
taken from scrubs you have. When you look at the projected curve above, Michigan has a good chance to pull a better top 18 rated players this year than last. Rivals rated those 27 recruits #5 in the nation and this year’s might struggle to beat that rating with 18 players that are considerably better than the top 18 from last year’s #5 class. Michigan won’t win the top class ranking but that doesn’t mean they might not have the best class come February.
With the addition of Maryland and Rutgers the conversation has centered around
WHY, WHY, WHY, TV sets and whether or not this was just a cover for Delaney to ditch Leaders and Legends. MGoUser trppwlbrnID asked the question that should always be asked, what about recruiting?
With the addition of the two schools, I dug into their recruiting bases and how much opportunity there might be for Michigan to jump into some new territories.
Home state of Maryland recruits (2009-2013 classes) weighted by consensus rating
Nearly half of Maryland’s last five classes have come from Maryland and Washington, DC. These two regions would have the most likely opportunity for Michigan. Pennsylvania, Georgia and Florida are regions that aren’t going to give any advantage because Maryland has joined the Big Ten.
Home state of Rutgers recruits (2009-2013 classes) weighted by consensus rating
Over half of Rutgers’ recruits came from the home state of New Jersey. Like Maryland, Rutgers has looked to Pennsylvania and Florida as key secondary regions. So that leaves just the home regions of New Jersey, Maryland and DC as areas that Maryland and Rutgers have had success that seem viable for Michigan to make new inroads into.
Over the last five years, there have been 73 players from New Jersey, Maryland and DC that have garnered a consensus 4 star level rating. Five schools have signed at least four of these players. Penn St has signed 9 of these players while the new members of the Big Ten have signed 7 each. Florida and Michigan have each signed four. When you look at the totals by conference (excluding Maryland and Rutgers from any conference) the Big Ten is already the leading team in recruiting these key regions.
The Big Ten is already getting about a third of the players not going to the new members. Adding Maryland and Rutgers into the Big Ten count gives them 45% of the top recruits from the region. In terms of quantity, there doesn’t seem to be much upside for Michigan in the newly acquired regions on a quantity basis. Some of the ACC signees may end up going B1G but even taking a third of these players is still just one extra recruit for the conference per year.
The Elite Opportunity
During the same five year period, the Maryland/Rutgers region has produced 15 players who were consensus Top 100 level players only one signed with a Big Ten team (Eli Apple, OSU) and Maryland (Stefon Diggs) and Rutgers (Darius Hamilton, Savon Huggins) were each only able to sign three of the fifteen. Of the other 11, four went to other ACC schools, 3 to the SEC, 3 to the Pac-12 (one of which was the embattled Yuri Wright) and one to Notre Dame.
Overall, the Big 10 and Michigan already have a solid presence in the local areas where Maryland and Rutgers have the most success. The area that seems the most likely for Michigan to gain a new advantage will be the elite level recruits that have been avoiding the Big Ten presently.
The Michigan Opportunity
As noted above, Michigan is already doing better than most at signing 4 star talent from the region. There is certainly an opportunity to do more, but this shouldn’t be a major change for Michigan. The biggest windows of opportunity are probably in some of the Top 100 type players. Recent names such as Stefon Diggs and Kendall Fuller are players who Michigan might have had a better shot at with the new footprint (although Fuller’s recruiting did overlap with the news). This isn’t a massively talent rich region but it has enough to produce a couple elite prospects annually. Michigan and Ohio should be most poised to step in and take advantage, especially with Penn State buried for the next several recruiting cycles.
The more difficult to quantify opportunity is probably Virginia. Maryland isn’t a major player in the state, but with the Derrick Green commitment and the recruitment of Da’Shawn Hand the opportunity to play two games in neighboring Maryland should definitely help solidify Michigan’s position as a major player in Virginia recruiting.
Football commentators regularly talk up the value of the bye week or a big early season game for the opportunity to add extra preparation from a coach staff. This week I dug into the data to see how much of an effect bye weeks and openers had on team performance and which coaches are the best and worst at using the bonus time to their advantage.
As usual, I looked at all FBS games from 2003-2012. If a team played an FCS opponent as an opener or after a bye week it wasn’t included but it wasn’t treated as a bye for the next week’s game, either. I compared how each teams EV+ (points better/worse than an average team would have done, opponent adjusted) was in openers and post-bye versus how they did overall for that season. I then assigned those numbers to the head coach and looked at how head coaches have done, under the assumption that any strengths or weaknesses under these conditions would be more coach than program. So Brady Hoke is evaluated from Ball State, San Diego State and Michigan.
Over nearly 1500 post bye week games evaluated, a small benefit did emerge. The average team performs 1 point better post bye week than in regular weeks. 53% of teams performed better than their expected based on full season performance. The data closely matches a normally distributed outcome with an average benefit of 1 point and a standard deviation of 11.5 points.
Distribution of points versus average for post bye week games
Openers were about a wash. The typical team performs about 0.2 points worse than expected in openers. Openers feature a lot more variables than just extra preparation time. The standard deviation for opening games is the highest of any week during the regular season (but lower than bowl games). That variance is pretty low however. Teams have the most deviation from their season average in week one (11.9 points) but the low point has a deviation within 1 point (11.0) that occurs during week one. So teams are most likely to have an outlier game in week one or for their bowl but overall, most weeks have a pretty similar level of deviation.
To see how current Big Ten coaches have done, I looked at their track records for both openers and after a bye week to see who has done the most and least in each situation. The bubbles are color coded based on the team and all of the reds are team coded because there are too many red teams in the Big Ten.
Positive numbers are good and bubble size indicates sample size
Mark Dantonio and Kirk Ferentz have both been able to start the year off strong with strong opening performances. New Wisconsin coach Gary Andersen along with small sample size guys Bill O’Brien and
Curtis Kyle Flood both have the best results after a bye week. Coach Hoke’s openers have been mildly below average but his bye weeks have been the most productive of any coach with a larger number of games. Urban Meyer has seen his results after bye weeks on the other end with his squads playing 3.6 points per game worse than they do in a normal week.
Other Notable Coaches
Openers on the x-axis and post bye week on the y-axis
Charlie Weis has seen his career reflect his seasons at Notre Dame. A first season/game that was significantly better than what happens afterwards. I guess his decided schematic advantage expires after one week. Barry Alvarez is apparently the king of the bye week as his teams turned 3 bye weeks under him into a +21 advantage, even after accounting for opponent and team strength. Joe Paterno was the opposite case. His Penn St teams played over two touchdowns worse after a bye week. Mack Brown and Jim Tressel also had teams that have found bye weeks to be counter-productive. The only entry several points worse on both standards was GERG Robinson during his tenure at Syracuse. LLoyd Carr’s openers were never great, even when The Horror is excluded but his teams where some of the best coming off of a bye week.
As always, let me know about any request for off-season material you would like to see.
The Michigan Difference: seeking input on offseason article topics and the first request being about punting and then getting a quick second! Ask and you shall receive.
MGoUser stubob asked whether or not outkicking the coverage on punts was a real thing and if there was an optimal distance to kick the punt. To look at this I looked at all “returnable” punts. Punts kicked from at least the 20 yards and that did not go further than the opponent’s 10 yard line and occurred in the first half of the game unless otherwise noted.
Unsurprisingly from the original hypothesis, the longer the punt, the longer the average punt return.
Average return yards/punt given punt distance
Initially, it does look like longer punts yield longer returns. Of note though is that the slope is significantly flatter than a 1 for 1 trade. The rough slope is that for every four yards of distance you add to the punt, you give back a single yard of average return (not counting touchbacks). This accounts for the average case, but doesn’t address the risk and variance.
The Big Return
Percent of returns going 10+ yards (Blue) and for TDs (Yellow)
Again, the data backs up the conventional wisdom on long punts. A 55+ yard punt has a one in four chance of coming back at least 10 yards. With an average return of 7+ yards this isn’t much of a surprise. The longer returns aren’t just a function of more space between the punting team and the return team. But even with smaller sample sizes, there is a strong trend between likelihood of a touchdown and the length of the punt. Even though the total odds of a 55+ yard punt getting returned for a touchdown is about 1 in 75, that is about 3 times the rate of a 30-35 yard punt.
If you look at the net implications of these two charts, the long term strategy clearly points to kicking it as far as you can, concerns be damned. Even when you factor in touchbacks, the odds of a punt netting 40 yards goes up dramatically the longer the kick.
Percent of punts netting 40+ yards by punt distance
55+ yards net over 40 yards nearly 9 out of 10 times, nearly 50% more than a 40 yard kick. Outkicking the coverage isn’t a valid enough fear to push for any decision other than kicking it long, except possibly in a late game situation where the small but increased risk of a touchdown on the return becomes more highly leveraged.
The Spread Punt
One of the few questionable decisions the Hoke era has produced has been the refusal to move to the spread punt. While I don’t have data on which teams have converted to the spread punt when, but if you trend punting data over the last 10 years, its clear that something is happening.
Average return yards per punt by season, excluding touchbacks
Over the last ten years, the average return yards per punt has decreased by 42%.
Percent of punts returned 10+ yards (Blue) and TDs (Yellow)
Just like above, the move towards lower return yards corresponds with a lower rate of long returns. The real indication of change comes next.
Gross (Blue) and Net (Yellow) punting (including touchbacks)
This generally otherwise uneventful chart shows that over the last ten years both gross and net punting have improved nearly every season. Not only has net punting improved, but it has improved at a rate faster (10.3% cumulative) than that of the gross punting (5.6%), which is the exact opposite effect you would expect based on the fundamental connection between punt distance and punt return yardage. This indicates that over the last 10 years there has been a shift in the basic nature of both the punt and the punt return. Correlation and causation and all that, but this is a pretty clear indicator that the widespread adoption of the spread punt formation has been a huge win for the punting teams.
If we make the weak but directional assumption that 2003 = Traditional Punt and 2012 = Spread Punt, the formation is worth about 3.5 yards per net punt and a 50% reduction in punt return touchdowns. Otherwise of note is that the block rate has dropped along a similar slope from 2.6% in 2003 to 1.0% in 2012. So net punting up, gross punting up, punt returns down, punt returns touchdowns down and punt blocks are down. Whatever has happened between 2003 and 2012 let’s hope Michigan is on board.
Last month on signing day I posted on the top classes looking at how they stacked up down the line, top to bottom. Several people requested a picture of Michigan’s classes and how each of the classes stacked up.
Carr’s classes definitely held their own throughout his final six years at the helm. From 2003-2006 Michigan’s classes were virtually identical through the top 12. 2004 was probably the lightest at the top but showed a tremendous level of depth through the top 20. 2003 was the opposite. Top of the line talent through the top 12 or so and then a fast drop off. 2005 is the most representative class of this range, with 2006 looking very similar to 2003.
Based on the narrative of Carr’s waning interest in recruiting at the end of his career, it looks better than I expected but there is solid evidence that a drop off was real. 2006 was solid at the top but had a poorly rated back half. In 2007 the dropoff occurred much sooner. Ryan Mallett and Donovan Warren were worthy headliners but from there the class was significantly lower rated than the previous Carr classes.
Of all the debatable aspects of the Rich Rodriguez era, his effectiveness as a recruiter was one of the most clear cut cases against him. 2008 and 2009 were very similar classes, but both were significantly below the Carr standard. Of the top 20 rated Michigan recruits from 2002-2010, only two RichRod recruits made the list. Darryl Stonum in 2008 and Will Campbell in 2009 came in at #18 and #19, respectively.
By the time the 2010 class signed, the pressure on the program was immense and the uncertainty produced a class significantly below anything in the internet era.
For all the ugliness of the 2010 class, the transition class was even worse. Justice Hayes was the most highly regarded in that class, and he didn’t even crack the top 50 of the prior 9 years. The transition class quickly became ancient history. Six players from 2012 would have been the highest rated for the 2011 class. From there things only got better. Last month Brady Hoke signed the highest rated player to the program since Ryan Mallett in 2007 and the class was across the board a step up from the already outstanding 2012 class.
The latest class is still in its infancy Michigan has received commitments from three players who are currently rated at levels consistent with the back half of the Top 10 of last year’s class.
Head to Head
Like any good recruiting battle, you have to be able to win the head to head matchups to take home the top spot.
Average recruit by Nth position
Hoke’s three year average is strikingly similar to Rodriguez’s low standard. However, when you remove the transition year things jump up considerably. Carr still holds the edge at the top range. Whether that is a reflection of Hoke versus Carr or just the emergence of the SEC that Carr came before, the top end is owned by Carr. The theme that seems to come through with Hoke’s classes so far, is their depth. Michigan’s 2013 class was one of the deepest in the country. When compared with very strong classes from Lloyd Carr, there is a clear separation from Hoke’s last two classes at from the tenth spot forward.