going 12-0 is a often a recipe for this, but especially this year
With the pre-bowl season officially under wraps for 2012, it’s time for my annual review of teams whose record most greatly deviated from what it “should" have been.
To (attempt and fail to) avoid confusion, here is how I define Luck for this exercise.
What I Am Measuring
Luck can mean a lot of things but for this, I am comparing a team’s actual wins this year versus taking their opponent adjusted performance and re-simulating the season with the exact same schedule. Two teams who play a tightly contested game are roughly the same on that Saturday. Over a long horizon these wins and losses tend to even out but over a 12 game season there will always be teams whose final records don’t quite match how they played throughout the year.
What I Am Not Measuring
I am not looking at any preseason expectations. I am not looking at how each team did versus the recruits on their team. Those two would look at over-achieving teams of 2012 more than lucky. I am not going back to individual games or plays to look at if one or two games would have been different. I am also not looking at injuries on personnel changes throughout the year.
Think of this exercise as a sort of Pythagorean Wins for College Football. A lucky season is a great one to have for a fan, because no matter what the expected value is, the end result is all that matters in looking back. But like Pythagorean Wins, “Luck” is a great starting point for looking ahead. There are a lot of different ways to get to the same record. Last year Texas A&M had the most unlucky season in the country and was nearly 4 games below their performance. Kevin Sumlin did a great job this year and having the Heisman Trophy winner certainly helped, but Sumlin’s team was in a much better position than their prior year’s record would have indicated.
Teams with great records are rarely unlucky and vice versa. The formula is [Actual Wins] – [Simulated Wins]. If you win most all of your actual games there is very little room for your simulated wins to be higher. It’s more a factor of math than destiny.
Coach Hoke’s alma mater was 2012’s luckiest team. Ball State was simulated to win 6.4 games this year but pulled out a 9-3 record. Beyond that, three of the four teams following Ball State are of high interest to Wolverine fans.
|Team||Actual Wins||Simulated Wins|
Michigan’s two biggest rivals and bowl opponent all crack the top 5. As noted above, Ohio St and Notre Dame were easy candidates for this list with perfect seasons, but their perfect seasons were the luckiest undefeated seasons in the seven years I have been measuring the luck factor, and by a considerable margin.
Michigan ended the season slightly lucky with 8 wins versus an expected 7.6 based on their total season performance.
Of the teams that finished the year with 2 or fewer losses, Florida State is the only team to finished at least 0.5 games unlucky, thanks to their upset to NC State and an otherwise weak ACC schedule. Their loss to the Wolfpack was the 7th most unlikely outcome of the season based on the simulation but the most likely outcome based on Seminole history. Of the Top 10 biggest upsets looking back, five happened in Week 1 and all by road teams (Youngstown over Pitt, McNeese St over Middle Tennessee, Tennessee-Martin over Memphis, Ohio over Penn St and Iowa over Northern Illinois). Only three of the top 10 happened after the second week of the season with
UMass topping Western Michigan and Florida Atlantic over Western Kentucky joined the NC St upset. The Ohio-Penn St game was an interesting one because people acted like it was at the beginning of the season even though it really wasn’t at the time. By the end of the season Ohio had tailspinned and Penn St turned out to be a much better team.
The unlucky list features some of the same teams from the biggest upsets above
|Team||Actual Wins||Simulated Wins|
Michigan State was a few spots down, as they finished nearly 2 games below their simulated totals, falling on the wrong side a few too many 16-13 totals.
Is This Luck Repeatable?
Almost certainly not. The scatter plot of current year versus prior year luck:
There are a lot of teams in each of those quadrants, each season is its own animal. Notre Dame’s was nearly 2 games above simulated this year but was –5.5 over the last three. Those who remember Northwestern as the team continually defying expectations. The Wildcats continued this year and are one of only two teams (Rice) who have had above average luck for all seven years. With Wake Forest right behind them I began started to draft a “smart schools are more lucky” section until I looked at the rest of the all-time top 10 and saw Middle Tennessee, Kentucky, Auburn and Ball State all on the list.
When you look at the spread of lucky years by
Count of teams by number of lucky seasons from 2006-2012
The twin peaks could mean there is a lucky and unlucky group, each normally distributed. It could also just a be bump in the data or it could be part of the fact that wins by program is somewhat consistent and luck is slanted if you are at one end of the spectrum. My biggest conclusion is that most of it is truly luck but that there is the possibility that teams like Northwestern or coaches like Les Miles have a true ability to consistently win more than they should but also that statistically, teams like that are bound to turn up even if its truly random.
On the heals of another dramatic wins, I dug deep to try and quantify the most dire of Michigan situations that turned into wins from the last ten years. Some are big comebacks, a few are last second heroics. The WPA model is perfect in very late game situations, but it isn’t terrible so here are the ten games from ten seasons that Michigan won based on their lowest WPA during the game for any offensive play.
10. 2004 vs Minnesota, 21% chance of winning
Trailing by 4 with 3 minutes left at their own 13 yard line, Chad Henne led an 87 yard drive to take the lead and the defense held for the win.
9. 2011 at Northwestern, 21% chance of winning
Michigan started the second half trailing by 10 and faced an early 3rd and 11 from their own 19 before Denard hit Roundtree for a first down and Michigan went on to score the next 28 points and win comfortably.
8. 2005 vs Penn St, 17% chance of winning
Michigan took over at their own 40 trailing Penn St 18-10 with under 12 minutes remaining. A 60 yard TD drive with two point conversion and a subsequent Garrett Rivas 47 yard field goal gave Michigan the lead but it came down to that final second when Henne hit Manningham for 10 yards and the winning points.
7. 2010 vs Illinois, 11% chance of winning
In what would become the epic 67-65 swan song victory for Rich Rodriguez, Michigan trailed by a touchdown with five minutes left and had backup Tate Forcier in for an injured Denard Robinson. Forcier led Michigan to a touchdown with 1:47 left and the defense miraculously held. The defense got a final stop on a two point conversion in the third overtime.
6. 2012 vs Northwestern, 9% chance of winning
The punt return from Jeremy Gallon pushed the odds from 5% to nearly 9% but 53 yards later Gibbons trotted onto the field for a chip shot field goal and Michigan pulled it out for the win.
5. 2007 at Michigan St, 8% chance of winning
After a Spartan touchdown, Michigan took over at their own 21 facing a 10 point deficit with seven and a half minutes to go. A Greg Mathews touchdown would cut the margin to 3 in less than a minute. Michigan would force a punt and have a chance to take the lead from their own 35 with four and half minutes left. On 3rd and 12 Chad Henne hit Mario Manningham for a 31 yard touchdown to provide the final margin.
4. 2008 vs Wisconsin, 6% chance of winning
A lone bright spot in a dismal year. The low point came in third quarter with Michigan trailing 19-0. Kevin Grady would convert a 4th and 1 and Steven Threet would eventually hit Kevin Koger for 26 yards to put Michigan on the board. The odds would go back down to 7% before Brandon Minor ran for a 34 yard score, to cut it to a one possession game and bring Michigan’s odds up to 23%. John Thompson’s 25 yard interception return would give Michigan the lead they would hold the rest of the game.
3. 2011 vs Notre Dame, 5% chance of winning
5% is probably high for this one. This is a situation where the late game situations cause the calculator a bit of trouble. No matter what the actual odds where the situation was highly dire and only a Jeremy Gallon invisibility cloak allowed Michigan to pull this one out.
2. 2003 at Minnesota, 2% chance of winning
Michigan entered the fourth quarter trailing Minnesota 28-7. Before scoring 31 fourth quarter points to pull out the win with Garrett Rivas hitting a 33 yard field goal with 47 seconds left to give Michigan its first lead of the game.
1. 2004 vs Michigan St, 1% chance of winning
Down 17 with 8 minutes left at your own 11 yard line. It’s Braylon Edwards time.
Bonus Overtime Chart
+42%-Gardner to Roundtree for 53 yards
+18%-Gardner to Roundtree for 17 yards in OT
+18%-Demens stonewalls Jones to end the game
+18%-Gardner to Funchess for an 8 yard TD
+11%-Gardner to Toussaint for a 28 yard TD
Interesting that none of the top 3 plays were touchdowns
-24%-Gardner intercepted by Dugar
-16%-Pat Fitzgerald come on down, your quarterback is the next contestant on questionable roughing the passer calls
-12%-Siemian to Fields for 21 yards on 1st and 20
-11%-Siemian to Dickerson right before half
-11%-Siemian to Jones to give Northwestern the lead 31-28
Michigan Rush Offense: +5 EV, +26% WPA
Michigan Pass Offense: +11, +64%
Michigan Rush Defense: –6, –9%
Michigan Pass Defense: –8, –44%
Special Teams: +10%
Devin Gardner: +22, +104%
Fitzgerald Toussaint: +1, +13%
Jeremy Gallon: +5, +10%
Roy Roundtree: +7, +65%
Kain Colter: +3, +22%
Trevor Siemian: +9, +41%
Venric Mark: +1, –1%
Dumb Punt of the Week
I really wanted to give this week’s award to our favorite big guy, Charlie Weis for his second half punt from the Texas Tech 38 while trailing but there was another big guy much more deserving. Terry Bowden and the Akron Zips trailed winless UMass by 8 in the fourth quarter and had a 4th and 6 at the UMass 33 yard line. Now a 4th and 6 is not an easy conversion. BUT YOU ARE AT THE 33 YARD LINE! And trailing by 1.5 possessions, in the fourth quarter. The Zips managed to pin UMass at their own 7, but still ended up losing by 8.
Terry Bowden is your Ron Zook Memorial Dumb Punter of the Week
Iowa is not good. Their offense has had one game with an EV+ above 2 (Minnesota) on the season. Their defense has been decent but their three worst performances have come over the last month. No matter who goes at quarterback for Michigan there should be enough firepower to outscore the Hawkeyes. By policy the pick comes from the season numbers but I would consider this score to be a bare minimum margin for Saturday.
Michigan 24 Iowa 10
Let’s head straight to a revamped chart. Now fixed to time, as opposed to play, to give a better feel for the flow of the game.
What jumped out at me right away was how this game was played between 25% and 75% virtually the whole way. In fact, the first play run with either team have a 75% or greater win likelihood was Denard’s completion to The Threat. I combed through my database and Saturday’s game was the longest a game had stayed within that range in the last ten years. No other game had gone 59.5 minutes with neither team being closer to winning than being even. Of course as soon as Michigan’s odds dipped on Toussaint’s ill-advised reception, the offense comes through with a huge completion to set up a 65% chance of hitting the game winning field goal.
Biggest swing plays
Michigan would have been looking at about 70% win odds, but the 26 yards and a new set of downs on Sparty’s fake punt brought Michigan St back to square at 50%.
Andrew Maxwell had a third down and four on Michigan’s side of the field when he threw the ball straight to Jordan Kovacs. Prior to the snap Michigan was at its current low for the game around 39% but the pick and return quickly pushed them to about 53%. The number would have been about 5% higher if part of the return hadn’t been called back.
Michigan was down 1 with the ball at their own 25 with about 5 minutes left. Denard found some room and went 44 yards for Michigan’s longest play of the day. That jumped the game from 44% to 67% in Michigan’s favor.
With less than a minute to go Denard couldn’t find anyone open downfield so he chose to dump it off to Fitzgerald Toussaint a yard behind the line of scrimmage. The ball was low and Toussaint instinctively went down to catch it, which he unfortunately did. The loss of a down, yardage and time pushed the win percent down from 32% to 15%, the first time all game either side crossed the 75% mark.
Michigan would bounce right back and Denard’s strike to The Threat would reverse that 15% in no time. With only a field goal attempt left, the offense handed the game to Gibbons with a kick an average kicker would make 65% of the time.
And of course he did. +35% to Gibbons and all the brunette girls.
[Hit THE JUMP for an updated season projection, Dumb Punt of the Week, Nebraska prediction, and more.]
Back in August anyone who looked at September’s schedule knew a trip to Dallas against the defending national champions and a trip to South Bend made a 2-2 a very real possibility. Here we are in that place and the realist in August doesn’t feel nearly as good about this 2-2 team as he thought he would. 6 turnover days and another Denorges disaster of a game leaves a bad feeling for a lot of Michigan fans.
But maybe it shouldn’t. Alabama appears to have moved into full-on Borg mode, replacing missing pieces and getting stronger together no matter what happens. Michigan’s game may strangely end up being one of the better performances of the season. Notre Dame we all know what happened, but hey, seven point games on the road against quality opponents, especially while going through so much self-inflicted adversity, that’s something that can be built on. And the B1G sucks.
How do all the factors come together, here a look at where the numbers indicate each team versus where they were projected coming in:
Purdue (++): Gone from also-ran to potential spoiler in the Suspendeds division
Minnesota (++): Far from a great team, but a huge step forward from the Gopherquest days
Indiana (+): Still pretty bad but should be more competitive
Michigan St (+): That’s a slight plus from my projection which is probably a double minus compared to most others
Nebraska(0): About where I projected them to be
Ohio St (0): Shaky at times, but still looks like the best in a down conference
Northwestern (0): The wins are great and there will be more, but still not a major player
Iowa (0): A pretty mediocre football team
Michigan (-): Down some, but not a significant variance
Wisconsin (-): Performance has been sloppy to say the least, but the record still holds up
Penn St (-): Have looked a little better the last two weeks but still far from a great team
Illinois: (- -): Getting beat down by Louisiana Tech is not good for the rep
If Ohio wasn’t sitting in timeout and Michigan had gone the cupcake route, no one would be talking about the B1G’s troubles right now. It doesn’t mean they aren’t real but it does skew them. Ohio is the clear-cut favorite to have the most wins in B1G play. They are the only team projected to have more than Michigan’s 5.8 conference wins, with 7.0. Nebraska and Wisconsin are both within a half of the Wolverines while Sparty sits a full game and a half back. Purdue is within a half of game on Wisconsin then it’s a whole pile of garbage. Doesn’t mean a Northwestern or someone couldn’t make a run, but based on current performances, your most likely B1G championship game is Michigan vs Wisconsin.
With high win-probability versus Illinois (98%), Minnesota (84%), Northwestern (96%) and Iowa (92%) still on the board, Michigan’s success is going to come to flipping some of the close ones. Purdue sits at 65%, a low take on the Spartans has that game at 80% (although I can’t imagine anyone has that confidence right now). Nebraska is at 45% and Ohio finishes the year at 20%. That leaves a 3.5% chance of running the table. Beat Nebraska and Ohio and the odds jump tenfold.
Despite two massively frustrating games, with Ohio out of contention, I would still install Michigan as both Legends division and B1G favorites. And this based on in-season performance! If Michigan is able to right the ship, their chances only go up and they are still the most dangerous team eligible for the championship game. With that said, there’s probably another two losses out there for this team. Ohio and Nebraska will be tough road matchups and Michigan isn’t good enough to show up and win the other games on the schedule. A win next week against Purdue would serve as a great firewall for the season.
On to the carnage:
The weekly game probabilities chart
Can you spot the turnovers?
Despite all the big drops in the first half, Michigan was building probability before the critical third quarter fumble.
D. Robinson: –5 EV and –21% Win Probability on 50 plays (was +8 and +12% on 45 of the plays)
F. Toussaint: –1 EV and –6% on 13 plays
E. Golson: –9 EV and –24% on 9 plays
T. Rees: +6 and +14% on 12 plays
Wood/Riddick: +0 and +8% on 24 plays
Could have been nice if Kelly would have stuck with Golson a bit longer. Didn’t have the volume of bad plays of Denard but managed worse before getting pulled for what turned out to be a huge gain in Tommy Rees. As you can see, the running game and Notre Dame offense in general weren’t great, its just the negatives on Michigan’s offense that were the difference.
Over the course of the season there are three key factors that drive the success or failure of a football team:
On a game by game basis you can throw in variance/strategy/luck. It’s pretty tough for a high variance strategy to pay out over the long term but for a particular game playing high variance could be the right decision. Teams like Boise State have found success mostly on execution. Oregon and other non-traditional powers have used offensive systems to drive success. The ones who have done it with talent are easy to spot because that’s where the big-time programs all start.
It would have been unrealistic for Michigan to expect Saturday to be a victory on execution over a Nick Saban coached team. Al Borges was apparently comfortable not pushing any system/variance strategies with his choice of play calling (unless you consider the deep balls his way of playing high variance). That left the major gap between Michigan and Alabama to come down to talent. Michigan and Alabama both have storied histories and bright futures for their football teams, but their current rosters are at very different points.
Here is a look at how Michigan’s roster stacks up to the Big Ten and its non-conference opponents. Methodology here
|Penn St||2,267||Air Force||126|
Michigan certainly has an enviable roster for most of the country, but attrition and recruiting gaps have left the upper-classes of the roster well below the nation’s elite programs. In fact, the gap between Michigan and Alabama is essentially the same as between Michigan and Minnesota. With Michigan not willing (system/variance) or able (execution) to push the other levers, the talent lever came through in full force.
The good news is that there isn’t a team left on the schedule that can do that to Michigan on talent alone. Holding serve on talent puts Michigan at 9-3 and Legends division champs and potentially favored in the B1G Title Game. The talent gap can give and it can take away. Obviously talent is never a guarantee (ask Texas) but with good coaching, Michigan’s talent should put them in a position to be a competitive or win every game remaining on the schedule. The defense seems positioned to possibly pick up some advantage from coaching, and until the full tenants of the passing attack are in place, the offense will likely be middle of the course to slightly above, depending on how the Denard is deployed.
Barring major attrition issues, Michigan will start to move up the talent list over the next several years. I project them to reach current Ohio/ND range in time for the 2014 and potentially hitting the upper echelons when the current freshman enter their senior season. Until that happens, Michigan will either need to be content to see results like they did on Saturday or find different ways to gain advantages over the next two seasons.
Game scores (1st half only)
Denard Robinson: 18 plays, -1.2 EV (points added), -8% WPA (win pct added)
Thomas Rawls: 4 plays, -0.3, -1%
Vincent Smith: 9 plays, -2.0, -1.5%
AJ McCarron: 16 plays, +6.7, +12%
Eddie Lacy: 8 plays, +3.4, +4%
TJ Yeldon: 5 plays, +4.4, +7%
Air Force isn’t charted from its week 1 win against an FCS team, but it plenty efficient, scoring TD’s on 4 of 6 first half drives, with one killed by a 15 yard penalty. The defense pitched a first half shutout but did allow 3 of 5 drives into Falcon territory. My preseason rankings installed Michigan as a nearly three touchdown favorite and I have no reason to think expectations have changed substantially.
Michigan 31 Air Force 10, 98% chance of victory
With the talk of a potentially impending commitment from Laquon Treadwell, Tremendous noted that he might be the most highly touted receiver recruit in Michigan history (extending only to the modern recruiting era, of course).
The prompted me to look at the actual recruiting history of Michigan and fill out a Hall of
Fame Highly Touted roster, ie the most highly regarded players to sign Letters of Intent to Michigan from 2002-2012. Players are ranked only on their recruiting stature. If a player was ranked at different positions by multiple sites, I tried to go with the site that ranked them highest. Without further ado, your Michigan 5-Star Recruiting Hall of Highly Touted.
Michigan’s newest members of the Hall of Highly Touted
Quarterback - Ryan Mallet-(90 points)
Was ranked behind Jimmy Clausen as the number 2 QB in the 2007 class and top 20 overall on three sites. Saw action for an injured Chad Henne during his true freshman season before transferring to Arkansas after Lloyd Carr retired. Was a third round draft choice of the Patriots.
Running Back - Kevin Grady (80)
A consensus five star and top 5 RB in 2005. Showed signs his freshman year after becoming Michigan’s first early enrollee but injuries, legal trouble and the presence of Mike Hart all restricted him from matching his on field results to his profile.
Wide Receivers - Mario Manningham (71) and Antonio Bass (69)
Manningham was Michigan’s most productive wide receiver to come after the 2002 class, twice earning all Big Ten and was a 2nd Team All American in 2007. Was drafted in the third round and made a crucial catch in the Giants Super Bowl win last February.
Antonio Bass saw limited action as a true freshman in 2005 before blowing out his knee in the spring of 2006. Was never able to play again.
Tight End - Will Paul (68)
Scout considered him the #2 Tight End in 2003. Played defensive tackle and fullback at Michigan.
Other skill position - Darryl Stonum (67)
Consensus Top 75 player and Top 15 wide receiver in the 2008 class. Set the single season kickoff return yardage record in 2009 and had a decent 2010 season before a fourth alcohol related incident ended his Michigan career last year.
Offensive Line - Stephen Schilling (73), Justin Boren (72), Kyle Kalis (69), Brett Gallimore (61), Dann O’Neill (58)
Schilling was a sixth round pick in the NFL draft. Boren took his plow and his family values to Ohio. Kalis pulled a reverse Boren and abandoned the Buckeyes and will be a freshman this season. Gallimore switched to defensive line without making much of an impact on either side. O’Neill transferred to Western Michigan after a redshirt season.
Defensive End - LaMarr Woodley (85) and Tim Jamison (69)
Woodley finished his Michigan career with a consensus first team All-American season in 2006 followed by a second round pick in the NFL draft. He was Scout’s #1 ranked defensive end in 2003 and Rivals’ #3 inside linebacker.
Tim Jamison was a top eight defensive end to both services in 2004 but had an under-the-radar career at Michigan. Despite not winning any major postseason awards and going undrafted, Jamison posted the two highest EV season for a Michigan defensive lineman not named Brandon Graham, and has spent three years in the NFL with the Houston Texans.
Defensive Tackle - Marques Slocum (78) and Ondre Pipkins (69)
Marques Slocum only spent a season in Ann Arbor after earning a five star rating from Scout in 2005 but his internet legend will live on forever.
Pipkins comes to Michigan with high expectations of replacing Mike Martin as a true freshman. Hopefully his football career is as great as Slocum’s answers to the quiz.
Linebacker - Brandon Graham (83), Jim Presley (69) and Joe Bolden (61)
Brandon Graham may have suffered through some of the worst defenses Michigan has ever fielded but he did his part to live up to recruiting expectations. Despite ending up on the line, Graham was rated by all the services as a five star linebacker in 2006. Graham was the only player on this list that was ultimately selected in the first round of the draft.
Jim Presley was a four star Top 75 linebacker recruit in 2003 who never was able to cut it academically at Michigan.
Joe Bolden enters his freshman season with Michigan as a consensus four star.
Safety - Prescott Burgess (90) and Jonas Mouton (68)
No Michigan recruit has come with higher ratings than Prescott Burgess. Rivals saw him as the #1 safety in the country in 2003 and Scout saw him as the #3 linebacker. Burgess wasn’t a total bust but never earned more than Honorable Mention All Big Ten and was selected in the sixth round of the NFL draft.
Like Burgess, Mouton ultimately saw his career at Michigan come at the linebacker position. Mouton was up and down at Michigan but was selected in the second round of the draft.
Cornerback - Donovan Warren (74) and Boubacar Cissoko (59)
Warren had three solid seasons before going undrafted as a surprise early entry. Coming out of high school, Warren was considered one of top five corner backs to both Scout and Rivals.
Cissoko paired with Warren to start the 2009 season before legal issues saw him kicked off of the team. His legacy lives on as Teric Jones, Delonte Hollowell and Terry Richardson all committed to come from Cass Tech to Michigan, none of which cracked 5’10.
Defensive line was easily the most competitive position with seven players missing the cut that were rated higher than peers who made it other positions. Chad Henne, Gabe Watson, Will Campbell, Craig Roh, Shawn Crable and Devin Gardner were notable names who were higher than other but not high enough at their position.
Of the 22 players on the list, seven went on to get drafted by the NFL, eight failed to finish their career at Michigan, five finished their career at Michigan without being drafted and Kyle Kalis, Joe Bolden and Ondre Pipkins are yet to begin their careers.
Lloyd Carr brought in nearly all of those players, with between 2 and 4 players from each class from 2002-2007. The 2008 hybrid class had three players on it, none of whom ultimately contributed substantially. In his first full class, Brady Hoke has three new additions to the list and Kyle Bosch and Patrick Kugler are all poised to knock Gallimore and O’Neill from the list once they ink their names in February. If Treadwell ultimately signs then he will knock off Antonio Bass and potentially move in front of Manningham depending on where the final ratings land.
Boubacar Cissoko is far and away the lowest rated player on the list (once the 2013 players join). His consensus value is 59 points. After his spot the two 2013 lineman and Joe Bolden are the lowest rated players, in the low 60s. Everyone else on the list is at least 67 points. Overall Most Touted Recruits are Prescott Burgess for the defense and Ryan Mallett for the offense.
Yes. They still. Even though the Michigan Hall of Highly Touted is a mixed bag tilted more towards busts than wins, I am a still a firm believer that recruiting ratings matter. The important distinction is that recruiting is a volume game, not an individual game. There is still a low rate of individuals living up to their recruiting hype, but if your team is deep with talented players, you should do pretty well.