Experience vs defensive performance

Experience vs defensive performance

Submitted by ebv on November 28th, 2010 at 9:15 PM

Let me start this off by thanking all the players for their incredible efforts on the field this season.  Vincent Smith blocking JJ Watt is the defining image for me.  Vinopal stopping Leshoure for a loss on 3rd and 1 is right up there too.

So what is the purpose of this?

I want to explore how much of our defensive performance we can plausibly blame the coaches for, and what is an inevitable part of a young program.  Is there an uninterruptible progression in football ability from freshman to senior, or can good coaching get a kid to play like someone with 2 or more years of experience?  Everyone seems to have an opinion, but what does the data say?

How will you test that? 

I’ve scraped rosters for every FBS team from ESPN.  For each team, I calculate an experience score by assigning a value to each academic year (Senior = 4, Junior = 3, Sophomore = 2, Freshman = 1)  and summing over defensive players**.  High scores will go to big teams with lots of seniors.  Low scores will go to small teams with lots of freshman.  I then measured the correlation with the Football outsider’s defensive S&P+, an aggregate measure of defensive performance that does not (as far as I can tell) include experience.  If performance is predictable from experience, then there is not much the coaches can do aside from wait for the team to grow up.  However, if there is no correlation, then coaches can influence performance by increasing talent levels (recruiting) and ability (coaching).

What are the results?

The data takes on what appears to be a normal distribution with most teams in the middle in terms of both experience and performance, with just a few at the extremes.  Tulane is a major outlier in experience, with an experience score of 63.  Scout.com’s Tulane season preview starts by saying “Few units in America are greater coach killers than the Tulane D.”  More about them later.  The high end of experience features Navy, Nebraska, Army, Ohio, Kansas State, and Notre Dame, in that order.  Michigan has an experience score of 101 and an S&P+ score of 90.8, locating us near the peak of both distributions.

In the next figure, each point is a team, with its experience score on the x-axis and its defensive performance, as measured by Football Outsiders, on the y-axis.  The plot is roughly cone shaped: elite defenses are impossible without a certain level of experience, while at the same time, experienced defenses can be crappy.  It is interesting to note that the upper right is empty, indicating that a team can, somehow, be too experienced.  Could this be explained by the NFL draft?

There is a positive correlation with p = 0.026, indicating that it is not random.  Every year of experience leads to a gain of 0.2 S&P+ units.   In short, getting older makes the team (a little bit) better.

R2 is very small (0.042), meaning that experience can only explain about 4% of the variation in performance.  Most of a team’s defensive performance is not explained from its experience alone.

The red line shows the best fit linear regression model for the data.  Teams above the line are performing better than we would expect from experience alone, while teams below are worse.  The horizontal yellow line shows Michigan’s defensive performance. It is right about the same as Tulane’s (the leftmost point with an experience score of 63).  Coach Killer you say?  The vertical, yellow lines will be discussed after first covering some caveats.

Huge, conclusion altering caveats:

First, ESPN does not include data on redshirts, which would probably change the experience picture substantially.   Second, we can not separate the portions of a team’s defensive performance that are due to good coaching from those that result from raw talent / recruiting.  Third, ESPN does not give information about scholarships, so it is possible for the experience scores to be biased by players who will never see the field.  Fourth, the data does not reflect injuries so the team on the field may be much less experienced than the roster.  Finally, FO Data doesn’t include yesterday’s games yet, so if there were big suprises (cough, Iowa) thet might change this analysis somewhat.  Try to interpret the data with these limitations in mind (i.e. don’t take this analysis too seriously).

Ok, so what are the vertical, yellow lines?

The right one shows Michigan’s experience score.  Note the wide range of possible defensive performance scores at this level of experience.  Clearly, Michigan has suffered its share of injuries this year, so the vertical, yellow line on the left shows the experience score if we remove the defensive players from the OSU injury report (JT Floyd, Mike Jones, Jared Van Slyke, Mike Williams, Troy Woolfolk) and Vladmir Emilien.  Even removing these players, the defense is still playing below the expectation based on their experience.  Note that we are comparing Michigan with injuries to the rest of the FBS without injuries, essentially assuming that Michigan’s injury situation is a wild outlier – an assumption I’m not sure is true.  However, even making this assumption, the team is still performing below average.

Can now we draw some sweeping conclusions about the level of coaching at every football program in the country?

Finally, I wanted to look at who was doing well relative to their experience.  To do this I calculated an expected S&P+ from the regression model (the red line) and subtracted that value from the actual S&P+ score.  I then looked for teams with a large difference in performance and expectation.   If the difference is positive, it means the team is exceeding the performance expected given their experience.  If it is negative, then the team is underperforming expectations.

Who is doing well?

Top ten teams and the amount they’re exceeding expectations, in S&P+ units.

Boise State




Ohio State


South Carolina




Texas A&M




Mississippi State




West Virginia


Who is doing badly?

Bottom eleven teams, and the amount they’re underperforming expectations, in S&P+ units.









New Mexico State






Ball State


Middle Tennessee




Eastern Michigan


How’s the Big 10 doing?

Big 10 teams + ND and Nebraska and the amount they’re exceeding or underperforming expectations, in S&P+ units.

Ohio State






Notre Dame




Michigan State




Penn State












How about Michigan?

Michigan is ranked 93, below expectations by about 11 S&P+ units, even when removing the injured players listed above.  That is nearly a full standard deviation (sd = 13.3).  We’re barely outperforming Bowling Green, Baylor and Virginia, and are being narrowly outperformed by Rice, Florida International and Arkansas State.

And our friends at Tulane?



Actually, about what you’d expect, given their dismal experience score.  They're ranked 56th.


The correlation between experience and defensive performance is poor, which means the coaches should be able to have a great deal of influence over performance.  Michigan is a young team, but plenty of teams that are just as young are outperforming us defensively.  Even if we assume that Michigan’s is the only FBS team with injuries, the performance is still below expectations.  This points to an issue with coaching.

There is the possibility is that Michigan’s experience score is an illusion, and consists mostly of non-scholarship players who will never see the field.  If you know of a data source that has up-to-date rosters and lists which athletes have scholarships, I’d be happy to rerun the analysis, but as it is the numbers make it look like we’re being outcoached, at least defensively, by Tulane.


* Since Tulane is an outlier, I reran this analysis without that datapoint.  There was not a substantial impact on the best-fit model.

** Edit 11/29/2010 - When I originally posted this I said "and summing over the whole team".  Actually, the experience scores are only counted for players at defensive positions.

Lessons from the Year of Infinite Pain?

Lessons from the Year of Infinite Pain?

Submitted by Brady2Terrell on November 28th, 2010 at 8:32 PM

In an effort to stay out of the "RichRod sucks/Harbaugh is God" or "Harbaugh is a hack traitor/RichRod will win 20 MNCs" camps, I decided to refocus my attention on a possibly relevant topic: given the completed 2010 season, what should our expectations for 2011 be?  More specifically, is there hope in recent Michigan history?

I began by comparing Michigan's results from 2010 with those from another recent 7-5 year, the 2005 Year of Infinite Pain (little did we know), a season that was widely heralded as Michigan's "once per score years down-year."

  2005 2010
Win #1 NIU, 33-17 UConn, 30-10
Win #2 EMU, 55-0 ND, 28-24
Win #3 MSU, 34-31 UMass, 42-37
Win #4 PSU, 27-25 BG, 65-21
Win #5 Iowa, 23-20 Indiana, 42-35
Win #6 Northwestern, 33-17 Illinois, 67-65
Win #7 Indiana, 41-14 Purdue, 27-16
Loss #1 ND, 10-17 MSU, 17-34
Loss #2 Wisconsin, 20-23 Iowa, 28-38
Loss #3 Minnesota, 20-23 PSU, 31-41
Loss #4 OSU, 21-25 Wisconsin, 28-48
Loss #5 Nebraska, 21-25 OSU, 7-37














While at first glance I want to be able to look at this and say "we followed that 2005 season with a 2006 season led by a beast of a defense and a powerful offense, and came within a late-hit penalty of playing for the national championship," I can't see a similar turn-around for 2011.  Outside of the records, these teams were night-and-day.

It's true that the 2011 team will be bringing back more guys than we did in 2006, but that's where the comparison ends.  The 2005 team didn't lose a game by more than seven points, and lost their five games by a combined 21 points while outscoring their opponents in their wins by 122.  The 2010 team suffered each loss by at least ten points and lost the five by a combined 87 points, while only outscoring their opponents by 83 in the wins.  For those of you keeping track at home, that's a +101 scoring differential versus a -4.

So if we can't learn from 2005, what does progress really look like year-on-year from 2009?

  2009 2010
Win #1 WMU, 31-7 UConn, 30-10
Win #2 ND, 38-34 ND, 28-24
Win #3 EMU, 45-17 UMass, 42-37
Win #4 Delaware St., 63-6 BG, 65-21
Win #5 Indiana, 36-33 Indiana, 42-35
Loss/Win Illinois, 13-38 Illinois, 67-65
Loss/Win Purdue, 36-38 Purdue, 27-16
Loss #3/1 MSU, 20-26 MSU, 17-34
Loss #4/2 Iowa, 28-30 Iowa, 28-38
Loss #5/3 PSU, 10-35 PSU, 31-41
Loss #6/4 Wisconsin, 24-45 Wisconsin, 28-48
Loss #7/5 Ohio State, 10-21 OSU, 7-37














Other than UConn being a marginally tougher opponent than WMU, we ran the table against ND and some cupcakes in the non-conference schedule.  In both years we beat Indiana close and lost to Wisconsin by about 20.

In the positive column, we turned a 25 point Illinois loss into a 2 point win, and turned a 2 point Purdue loss into an 11 point win.  We closed the gap with PSU from 25 points to 10 points.

On the negative, however, our three conference losses against the better Big Ten teams got much worse.  Instead of losing in OT to MSU, we lost by 17.  Instead of losing by 2 to Iowa, we lost by 10.  Instead of an 11 point loss to OSU with five Tate Forcier turnovers, we lost by 30 in a game wherein OSU ran the ball on the final 16 plays and didn't attempt a pass in the 4th quarter (mimicking Wisconsin's performance the week before).

A sad stat for those arguing that 2010 was a strong step forward - the 2009 team was actually a +24 in scoring differential, which is four touchdowns favorable to the 2010 team that supposedly took a big step forward.  If David Brandon keeps Rich Rodriguez on for a fourth year I'm rooting hard for him to succeed and for us to compete for a championship, but it appears he'll be doing it without the benefit of recent trends or history.

Go Blue!

Tate's Decision to Stay a Wolverine: The Backstory

Tate's Decision to Stay a Wolverine: The Backstory

Submitted by MGoShoe on November 28th, 2010 at 7:09 PM

What made Tate Foricer decide not to transfer when so many were telling him to pull the trigger? Loyaly, and the realization that even though he was no longer the starter, there would be opportunities to play.  In a telephone interview with his hometown San Diego-Tribune, Foricer was frank and open.

“It’s hard to go from starting to backing up. A lot of people told me to leave. I wanted to leave. But it was just too hard. I didn’t want to leave the (coaching) staff or these players. I felt I was going to be a part of something great.”

“Two quarterbacks have to play in this offense. It might not happen every game, but you’re going to get your chance. I’m not banking on Denard getting injured. Nothing like that. But in this offense, you never know what can happen.”

“A lot of people would think me and Denard would have something against each other because he starts, but Denard is a good guy. We hang out. And he works hard. What’s hard for me is he’s having so much success and there’s nothing you can do about it except stay ready.”

“I’ve learned to be way more humble. I look back at freshman year, and I was a little cocky. I was getting too caught up in seeing myself on TV every week. I think that would happen to anybody who would go from being a regular kid in high school to a national stage like that. It was crazy.”

The headline "Forcier Found Michigan Ties too Strong" and the closing tell the story:

This season has brought Forcier a new reality and a new perspective. If he is not yet part of something great, he continues to grow.

Let's hope this continues to be the case. 

How long does it take to Rebuild a college power?

How long does it take to Rebuild a college power?

Submitted by ChicagoB1GRed on November 28th, 2010 at 6:36 PM
Every major CF power has had down periods and their fans went through the same conflict---no one wants to be the next Notre Dame, wandering in the wilderness not giving the new coach enough time and changing coaches every few years. All of these teams turned it around and were back to their winning ways.
Started me thinking about how fast the turnaround took. I looked at only the top teams for all-time for wins who in modern times had a major downturn and brought in a new coach: NU, UT, OK, 'Bama,  ND, USC; and a few newer ones like FL, FSU, GA.
One common thread--they all won right away (at worst had a middling 1st  year except Sabin) , and won at a high level every year thereafter. I recognize that every program is different and there's a lot of parity these days. I just couldn't find any examples of big-time programs that needed several years for the new coach to turn things around. But coaches like RR and Brian Kelly do have a strong track record of success as CFB head coaches---maybe they'll start a new trend.
Here's the programs, with coach's first year and all-time record at that school: 
OKLAHOMA Bob Stoops 7-5, 127-31
NEBRASKA Bo PelinI 9-4, 30-10 and Bob Devaney 9-2, 101-20
TEXAS Mack Brown 9-3, 132-34
ALABAMA Nick Sabin 2-6, 37-11
FLORIDA Urban Mayer 9-3, 64-15
NOTRE DAME Lou Holtz 5-6, 100-30
GEORGIA Vince Dooley 7-3, 201-77
USC Pete Carroll 6-6, 77-12
FLORIDA ST Bobby Bowden 5-6, 304-97

Big Ten Recruiting Class Rankings 11-28-10

Big Ten Recruiting Class Rankings 11-28-10

Submitted by Tim on November 28th, 2010 at 6:15 PM

A new commit for the Wolverines means this hits the front page. Action since last rankings:

11-21-10 Notre Dame loses commitment from Justice Hayes.
11-22-10 Michigan gains commitment from Justice Hayes.
11-23-10 Northwestern loses commitment from Sean Cotton.
11-24-10 Iowa loses commitment from Melvin Gordon.
11-25-10 Purdue gains commitment from Doug Gentry.
11-27-10 Penn State gains commitment from Matt Zanellato.

Rivals and Scout have updated their rankings over the past couple weeks, so there are some shakeups in there.

Big Ten+ Recruiting Class Rankings
Rank School # Commits Rivals Avg Scout Avg ESPN Avg
1 Ohio State 18 5.76 3.78 79.17
2 Notre Dame 16 5.70 3.50 78.94
3 Nebraska 17 5.71 3.41 78.75*
4 Michigan 14 5.68 3.36 78.36
5 Michigan State 16 5.65 3.25 76.75
6 Wisconsin 21 5.58 2.86 72.10
7 Indiana 21 5.54 2.71 75.24
8 Iowa 15 5.59 2.93 76.53
9 Northwestern 11 5.55 2.73 77.09
10 Minnesota 15 5.53 2.60 73.87
11 Illinois 17 5.44 2.59 72.00
12 Penn State 6 5.47 2.67 70.17
13 Purdue 10 5.47 2.10 66.70

Rivals rankings are on the "RR" scale, which is on a scale from about 5 to about 6.1. Unrated prospects are given a 5.1 rating, on par with the worst of any Big Ten commit last year. Scout is on the 5-star system (unranked players earn star), and ESPN uses grades out of 100 (unranked is 40 or 45). Full data after the jump.

OSU Hangover. Rose Bowl Colored Glasses

OSU Hangover. Rose Bowl Colored Glasses

Submitted by Starko on November 28th, 2010 at 5:41 PM

We all view the past in Rose Bowl colored glasses.  Why don't we honestly reflect on the past, while we debate our current coaching situation.

My first memory of Michigan football: watching Raghib Ismail run up and down the field at will.  My first memory of Bo was the following joke: "Why can't Bo eat Cheerios? Because he always chokes at the bowl."

Bo's national championships: 0
Bo's bowl record: 5-12
Bo's Rose bowl record: 2-8

Lloyd Carr national championships: 1 (4th & 5th-yr players were Moeller recruits)
Lloyd Carr's Bowl record: 6-7
Lloyd's Rose Bowl record: 1-3
Lloyd Carr record vs FCS (I-AA) opponents: 0-1

In 2005, we went 7-5 with a team full of seniors in a program that was virtually unchanged for 35 years. 

This is not to disparage anything in the past, it's just to point out that all those who think that anything less than national championship contention is a failure, apparently have never been happy being Michigan fans.  We have been pretty good for a long time, but rarely great.

For those who are up in arms because we have lost 3 straight to Jim Tressel, how about the following facts:

Jim Tressel Big Ten losses since RR took over: 3
Jim Tressel Big Ten losses in last 6 years: 5
Big Teams to beat Tressel in consecutive seasons: 1
Michigan record versus OSU in 4 years prior to RR:  0-4

How can people be upset that RR has lost three in a row to OSU, when the great Lloyd Carr lost four straight, with the likes of LaMarr Woodley, Mike Hart, Chad Henne and Jake Long, just to name a few?  It is preposterous.

JT has had an amazing tenure at OSU. This level of success is unmatched by anyone north of the Mason-Dixon line. Even when we beat OSU on an annual basis, in the modern era, they have been a more important figure in the national picture. They have consistently out recruited us. This year's OSU team had 24 seniors and three more potential seniors left early to play in the NFL as juniors. We only had three drafted last year, and one was a punter. They have more seniors than they can even start.

Our program was going to be in a major rebuilding process before RR took the job, combine that with a massive exodus of players who didn't want to work, couldn't make the grade, didn't really attend high school, or were criminals, and you have what we've seen for the past three seasons.  How much better would our secondary have been with Donovan Warren, Boubacar Cissoko, and Troy Woolfolk?

What has RR done that's so terrible aside from 1. practice too much (and trivially so), 2. lose games against good opponents with an inexperienced skeleton crew, 3. had the number 2 kicking prospect unable to make a 30-yd chip shot, and 4. invite the media into the program only to be stabbed in the back by that self-hating POS Rosenberg.

RR has done a lot to turn this program around. Our D has stuck together and made improvement each game this season. Our offense is awesome, with a kicker and a slightly better defense, yesterday would have been a low scoring slug fest like those we all remember.  The team had a winning record. The team is in excellent physical shape and can maintain their speed right down to the last snap.

This season Michigan has beaten the teams they were expected to beat and lost to the teams they were expected to lose to. We all would have loved an upset or two but it simply wasn't in the cards. Michigan caught no breaks from the football gods. Did anyone honestly think we'd beat OSU back in August? Did anyone think we'd beat anyone when we found out about T-woolf's ankle?

A coach can only do so much. He can prepare the people to be in the position to make a play, but he can't do it for them. He can't take back a fumble, ha can't make a catch, can't even make a tackle anymore. RR can take this program to places it has rarely been. He himself is a walk-on type who has forged his success with his own blood, sweat and tears. He didn't come from a pedigree. Daddy didn't get him a spot on the roster. He has excelled because he understands the game and because he has busted his nuts. The man turns 3 star recruits into 1st round picks. He needs time. Most of all he needs your support.

Support your coach.

Poaching IU commits (updated w/ Miami)

Poaching IU commits (updated w/ Miami)

Submitted by ish on November 28th, 2010 at 5:26 PM

ok, so poaching anyone won't be easy, we have our own coaching instability situation and so forth, but let's ignore that for a second and take a look at whether any of IU's commits is worth taking a snake oil a shot at.  [also, insert comments about how we shouldn't need to poach from IU here.  i know.  but occassionally they produce good players].  i don't know the answer regarding any of the below, so i'm requesting input. here are a few selections:

All ratings are from Rivals

Commit Position H.S. Rating Comment
Zack Shaw LB Coshocton, OH **** Rivals said we didn't offer him, but he committed in April, so there's a chance we would have had he not committed early.  He's Rivals' No. 13 ILB.
Ramon Taylor ATH Highland Park, MI **** An athlete in our backyard.  He projects as a CB.  We didn't offer, so given his location, my guess is we intentionally took a pass.  Worth another look?
Bernard Taylor DT Macomb, MI *** Another guy in our backyard who we didn't offer.  And his offer list isn't terribly impressive - MAC schools and IU.  However, if you looked at TomVH's defensive recruits left on the board post, you'd notice that there weren't many DTs, a position of tremendous need.  If NLOI day pulls near and we haven't made progress with the higher rated DTs on the board, we may just need to make offers.
Cody Latimer WR Dayton, OH *** A 3 star receiver, but on the higher end of the three stars.  After striking out on Watkins (please reconsider, Sammy) and still in need of one more outside WR, Latimer's name could surface.  He's 6'3", 210.  He does not have an impressive offer list, however.
Forissee Hardin S Louisville, KY *** A taller safety at 6'1", Hardin had an offer from Kentucky, but has a brother at IU.  You may have noticed the need for more bodies in the secondary.
Ralston Evans OG Indy, IN *** Evans also doesn't have a great offer sheet, but he's got one from Duke.  Not a shining beacon of football, I know, but David Cutcliffe has an eye for talent.  We need more OLs in this class and after Christian Bryant, there aren't many OGs on the board.  Rivals rates him the No. 31 OG in the country.

as i stated above, i'm not suggesting that we recruit any of these guys, i'm simply highlighting some of the top rated talent in IU's class that could address some of our positions of need and asking whether any of them would potentially be a good fit in our class.  comment away...

[edit] one commenter asked that i examine miami's recruits too.  while i think we stand less of a shot convincing any of them to join our class, they're obviously higher rated.  so, below, another chart?


Commit Position H.S. Rating Comment
Teddy Bridgewater QB Miami Northwester **** Rivals top-rated dual threat quaterback after Braxton Miller.  Obviously we'd take him, but we never offered, probably because we knew we had no shot.  He never appeared interested in leaving the Southeast, and if he de-commits, my guess is that it would be to LSU.
Anthony Chikillo DE Tampa, FL **** A weakside DE, Chikillo had offers from the entire country, including us.  He appears to be more highly rated by coaches than Rivals, who lists him as the No. 6 weakside DE and No. 205 overall.  Another guy we'd take, obviously, but also another guy that appears to have no interest in coming north.
Marcus Jackson OG Vero Beach, FL *** Rivals No. 13 rated OG, but he has a nice offer list, although we're not on it.  He was also offered by UF, FSU, USC (ntUSC) and Michigan State.  He's 315, but only 6'2", so he might have a bit of a weight problem.  But given our need at the position, he'd be worth taking a look at. 
Albert Louis-Jean CB Brockton, MA **** I don't even know if any of our coaches cover Mass. as it is so rare to find good prospects there.  But Louis-Jean is a pretty highly regarded prospect.  He had offers from PSU and Stanford [insert Harbaugh joke here] and is rated by Rivals as the No. 12 CB prospect.  He's 6'1" so he passes the 5'11" CB test.
Nick Menocal LB Miami Jesuit *** A mid-range 3 star, Menocal had offers from Iowa, N'Western, UVA and Stanford [no more Harbaugh jokes, please].  He's listed as an OLB, though he already weighs 235.  Might be a bit of a tweener.  But given the fact that he looked around at schools far from his home, maybe he could be snake oiled.

I know who our next DC should be!

I know who our next DC should be!

Submitted by mfan_in_ohio on November 28th, 2010 at 4:29 PM


Really, when you think about it, it's obvious.  A list of attributes:

1.  He has experience being outnumbered by an evil empire.  With just two remaining Jedi Knights, he never gave up and eventually defeated the Emperor.  Yes, I know it took over 20 years, but we've already waited 7.

2.  He has fought against Storm Troopers, which will help us next time we play Penn State at home.  Also, he's about the same size and age as Paterno, so that will be a nice story.

3.  He coaches up his talent.  Most Jedi Knights start their training as small children.  Yoda didn't get a hold of Luke Skywalker until near adulthood and turned him into a Jedi powerful enough to turn Darth Vader back to the good side and resist the Emperor's will.

4.  Speaking of which, good with youth.  Since we'll still be starting a lot of sophomores next year, that should help.

5.  Understands how to battle larger opponents.  Enough with "this won't work in the Big Ten" talk.  Yoda is about 3 feet tall and repeatedly defeats opponents twice his size or more.

6.  Recruiting advantage.  Yoda has good relationships with the Wookies, which will really help our defensive line.

7.  Complete change from GERG.  Especially in the hair department. 

8.  Can speak directly into the players' minds when they are on the field.  I don't think there is any rule against using the force during a play.

9.  Lived in a swamp for the last 30 years of his life, so he can deal with wet weather.


1.  He's green.  State fans will jump on this.  I do think, however, that when he does appear visually, it looks pretty blue, so it should be ok.

2.  He died a long, long time ago.  Given #8 above, however, that may turn to our advantage.


I think we have a solution here.  Get his agent on the phone.