Many of you are familiar with the 1997 season and the "shared championship" controversy. In the years since, especially the recent ones, I've often thought about how much talent Michigan had that year. This is partly because several guys from the roster are still high-profile NFL players.
When 1997 has come up in my conversations with college football fans outside the Midwest, I've noticed that the majority of them assume that Nebraska would have beaten Michigan if (say) the BCS had existed that year. I could speculate as to why that's the case, but that's not my main point here.
We'll obviously never know how that game might have turned out, but I've long believed that Michigan had more talent that year than Nebraska. How could that be measured?
I decided to look at the '97 rosters for both teams and the NFL database (http://www.databasefootball.com/). Here are my findings (specifically, lists of the future pros from each team):
Michigan wins easily.
* Michigan has more players, 33 to 24.
* Michigan has more "NFL" years, 200 to 152.
* Michigan's players appear to be distributed more evenly through the classes. Notice how many more 4th-/5th-year guys they have. So, more mature talent, right?
* NFL careers (and length thereof) are obviously not a perfect measure of talent at the college level, but I'll bet the correlation is significantly positive.
* On the other side (so to speak) plenty of college stars, including some Michigan Men over the years, have never played a game in the NFL. That doesn't mean they weren't significant contributors at the NCAA level.
* On the database site, classes were clearly assigned based on years in the program. Tom Brady was a junior to them but a redshirt sophomore to Michigan.
* Data goes to only 2009. You'll see that number next to players who were still active that year.
* The presence of a future pro in a given year might not be important. For example, Michigan gets all of Tom Brady's years, but he made a minimal contribution to the '97 team (on the field, at least). I would have looked at that more closely and filtered the non-contributors, but I didn't have enough information for the task.
* Compare '97 to '08. So far, there are only seven guys from that team (Trent, Jamison, Graham, Mesko, Brown, and probably Schilling and Mouton). Martin and possibly others (Hemingway, Molk, RVB, Woolfolk, Koger, Omameh, Roundtree, and Stonum ... too early to tell for the rest, I think) should join them eventually.
"Though I received no official response to these sophisticated and elegant tweets to the Illini Athletic Department, I would like to think that Beckman spent the evening prank calling everyone in Illinois named George McLellan and then ordering an absurd amount of hats off an internet haberdashery to hoard in his home's hat annex."