Moving the Stati-Sticks: Post-UCF

Moving the Stati-Sticks: Post-UCF Comment Count

Adam Schnepp September 16th, 2016 at 11:02 AM



Welcome to the first 2016 edition of Moving the Stati-Sticks, our weekly deep-dive into the advanced stats that have become increasingly popular in college football and the weekly in-season post that you most likely forgot existed. I’m hoping to change that this season. Instead of a bunch of tables or numbers in text, I’ll be creating graphs (and they’re mostly intelligible!) for items of note. This won’t be an exhaustive look at every single line item in the advanced stat profiles that are out there, but rather items of interest spun out of last week’s game, followed by a quick look ahead to Saturday’s opponent.

We’ll start with a thousand-foot view of Michigan, and the view’s pretty nice, actually. ESPN’s FPI predicts Michigan’s record will be 10.8-1.7 with an 11.9% chance they win out and a 39.9% chance they win the conference. Bill Connelly’s advanced stats profile at Football Study Hall, from which most of the rest of this post is derived, gives Michigan a 9% chance to win out and 35.2% chance to finish 11-1 or better. Brian Fremeau’s FEI doesn’t have opponent-adjusted stats available yet, but Michigan’s first in the country in unadjusted game efficiency. They’ve also played teams that FEI ranks as either below average (ranked 71-90) or awful (ranked lower than 116), but, uh, wooo we’re number one. More detailed stats are obscured by a lot of garbage time, but on a macro level available projections are very favorable to Michigan.

[After THE JUMP: the run game, quantified]


Moving The (Stati)Sticks: Utah

Moving The (Stati)Sticks: Utah Comment Count

Adam Schnepp September 11th, 2015 at 1:53 PM



Brian recently wrote a great Picture Pages that wrapped the “football is a game of inches” trope in a box and tied a nice, neat bow around it. Reading it is a visceral experience, a reminder of the miniscule events that can swing a game. If that’s looking at football through a microscope, what happens when we climb up to the photo deck and pull out a wide-angle lens?

We’re lucky enough to have people like Bill Connelly and MGoBlog’s own The Mathlete wondering the same thing and working toward achieving focus with a zoomed-out view of the game. Connelly wrote an influential piece about the five factors that he found to influence the outcome of a game, while The Mathlete’s research has come up with four. The purpose of this new weekly post is to pick through those factors and find what influenced last weekend’s outcome, as well as whether it was expected (turnovers are not great, Bob) or unexpected (I’d give you an example but then it’d fall into the “obvious” category, wouldn’t it).

I can hear my boss down the hall give me a quick summary of what I need to know about advanced stats before I have to switch to a different tab.

That’s oddly specific. It’s almost like the author of this piece has some prior experience with a scenario very similar to this one in a prior job. Anyway, Bill Connelly’s five factors are:

  • Explosiveness: If you’re averaging more yards per play than your opponent you’re in good shape. Win probability swings wildly here; averaging just 0.1 yards per play more than your opponent raises win probability from 50% to 55%. Connelly also has a more advanced Equivalent Points Per Play metric that also accounts for the equivalent point value of the yard line from which a play is run.
  • Efficiency: Last season the coaches often said that they “fell behind the sticks.” In effect, they were saying that the offense wasn’t very efficient. Success Rate is basically a measure of how well your offense stays on track; to be counted as a success a first-down play needs to get 50% of necessary yardage, a second-down play needs 70%, and third- and fourth-down plays need 100%.
  • Field Position: Turns out starting closer to the endzone than your opponent is kind of a big deal. I’ll let Connelly explain it numerically.
  • Finishing Drives: Connelly looks at how successful a team was inside the opponents’ 40-yard line. His argument is that there isn’t that big a difference in how teams perform inside the 20, but you do see some difference if you expand the range you’re looking at by 20 yards. It’s a pretty intuitive thing to look at; if you’re getting into opponent territory and not coming away with points you’re probably not going to win.
  • Turnovers: Just don’t do them. Giving up the ball cuts off your opportunity to score while handing the opponent an extra one. We’ve already talked about field position, and with that being a component of a turnover you can understand how costly they can be from the standpoint of win expectancy.
    The Mathlete’s four factors are similar in principle to Connelly’s, but are calculated differently. In his words, they are:

Conversion rate = [1st Downs gained]/[1st Down plays (including first play of drive)]. A three and out is 0/1. A one play touchdown is 1/1. Two first downs and then a stop is 2/3, etc.

Bonus Yards = [Yards gained beyond the first down line]/[Total plays from scrimmage]

Field Position = The expected point difference per game for where a team’s offense starts and where a team’s defense starts. Each drive is given an expected value based on the start of scrimmage, all of the drives for the offense and defense are totaled and compared. This accounts for all elements of field position: turnovers, special teams, drive penetration etc.

The fourth one is points per trip inside the red zone, which is self explanatory.

I’m back. Can you start writing about numbers so it looks like I’m doing something important and work related?

I mean, I guess? I’d recommend opening a sheet in Excel but that’s just me. Let’s look at The Mathlete’s factors first.

Team Field Pos Rank Conv Rate Rank Bonus YPP Rank Red Zone Rank
Michigan 21.0 60 73 30 1.52 59 5.6 27
Utah 27.9 28 73 30 1.64 55 5.6 27

That’s about as close as it gets with the exception of field position. Mathlete has Michigan’s average start at their 21 while Bill Connelly’s advanced stats box score has Michigan’s average start at their 30.9. I did some charting myself and also came up with 30.9, so the 21 is likely just a typo. The national average starting position is 29.6. With both schools a little over a yard away from that mark, field position turns into another category that’s essentially a wash.

Switching from where they started to where they finished, Michigan and Utah both made six trips inside the 40 and 3 inside the red zone, and both came away with 17 points from those trips. As Mathlete has noted, that results in both teams averaging a fairly good 5.6 points per red zone trip.

From this we can conclude that field position data doesn’t do a good job of explaining what happened. Looking at efficiency doesn’t unmuddy the waters much either. Bill Connelly uses a stat called Leverage Rate as a part of efficiency. Leverage Rate basically tells you what percentage of plays the offense was on track (i.e. all first downs, second and seven or less, and third or fourth and four or less). Michigan’s leverage rate was 70.8%, while Utah’s was 72.9%. Both topped the national average of 68.3%.

Digging through more of Connelly’s advanced box score tells us what the eye test already has: the run game was a little below average, while the passing game was actually really good if you exclude the three interceptions.

I’m hiding in the bathroom please just get to the point.

The first place there’s any real separation is passing downs success rate, where Michigan was successful on 33.3% of throws while Utah was successful on only 10.5%. The separation in passing games is echoed by Michigan’s 25.8 to 19.1 advantage in equivalent points from passing (I highly recommend checking out the definition of equivalent points here).

That doesn’t mean that Utah’s passing game was a total flop; their IsoPPP, which is basically a measure of explosiveness, was 3.37 while Michigan’s was just 1.95. (The national average is 1.84). As mentioned above, I did some rudimentary charting where my criteria for explosiveness was a 10+ yard run or a 20+ yard pass. I had Utah with two such passes in the game while Michigan had three. I’m not sure I’m using the best explosiveness proxy, as Utah did have a number of throws in the range of 15 yards that didn’t meet my criteria for explosiveness but certainly could have had an effect on IsoPPP.

Hey thanks I had to go back to my desk and you still haven’t given me a good explanation of what happened.

If I had to pin it on one thing it’d be turnovers. Utah was +2 in turnover margin, while their turnover points margin was +13.8. In a game where all other factors were relatively close this is massive. In fact, Connelly’s projected scoring margin had Michigan losing by 13.0, but they managed to lose by only seven.

That, along with a good statistical performance from the passing game, was counterintuitively positive. The running game, however, was a fairly clear negative. The offensive line’s struggles resulted in 2.38 line yards per carry, well below the 2.82 LY/carry national average. Even Utah’s line generated 2.74 LY/carry despite the outward perception that Devontae Booker was bottled up. Michigan’s rushing success rate was 31.0%, which isn’t even in the neighborhood of the 42.9% national average. Not having an explosive run game is tenable if your success rate is high, which Michigan’s wasn’t. Improvement there and some regression to the mean in the turnover department should lead to success for Michigan.


Behind the Sticks: Advanced Stats and Brady Hoke’s Offense

Behind the Sticks: Advanced Stats and Brady Hoke’s Offense Comment Count

Adam Schnepp May 21st, 2015 at 10:00 AM


[Adam Glanzman]

“Sometimes, there's a man, well, he's the man for his time and place. He fits right in there. And that's the Dude, in Los Angeles… But sometimes there's a man, sometimes, there's a man. Aw. I lost my train of thought here. But... aw, hell. I've done introduced him enough.” –The Stranger, The Big Lebowski

In mid-2010 I got hired by a bank to be a Customer Service Representative teller. This put me on the front lines of the never-ending war between people’s money and the financial organizations that hold it. I learned very quickly that there were two things that could turn a mild-mannered citizen into a venom-spewing troglodyte: bank fees and Rich Rodriguez.

I loved when people came into the bank wearing college gear because it meant I’d be able to easily strike up a conversation about football, and people are a little less likely to verbally assault you when you’re able to find some common ground. The operative word in that last sentence is “little,” but I digress. By the fall of 2010 people were so fixated on the abject disaster that was Michigan’s defense that they willfully ignored how incredible the offense was. This was the fuel they needed to turn the “RichRod isn’t a ‘Michigan Man’” fire into a raging inferno, and it got so out of control that I talked to people who were even criticizing Rodriguez’s wife for not being Michigan-y or Michigan-ish or something crazy like that. At one point someone complained to me about her having blonde hair.

The Microscope of Public Scrutiny was so zoomed in on Rodriguez and everything surrounding him that Dave Brandon was able to make the Free Press look stupid and then lie in wait. At some point in 2010 Brandon’s opinion aligned with the bank’s clients; to them, the Rodriguez experiment had failed. Enter: Brady Hoke.

Hoke represented everything that the anti-Rodriguez movement wanted: familiarity with the program, a defensive background, and the mixture of self-oriented humility manifest in his claim that he’d walk across the country for the job and the program-oriented bravado in the interminable fergodsakes claim.

The honeymoon phase lasted a full season, but by the end of Hoke’s fourth year the program was in a place similar to where he found it, a place all too familiar to Michigan’s fanbase. One side of the ball was above average, but the other side was in such shambles that the team collapsed under the dead weight. 



"Once we get the power play down, then we'll go to the next phase. You know, because we're gonna run the power play."

Brady Hoke, 3/23/2011

The transition from Rich Rodriguez to Brady Hoke was like switching from cold brewed coffee to run-of-the-mill drip coffee; a move away from the newer, higher-octane movement and toward what felt more traditional, the tried and true. The fallout from this was immediately apparent in the speculation that one of the most dynamic players to every don the winged helmet might transfer to a school with an offense better suited to his talents (i.e. a school that wouldn’t put him under center and have him hand the ball off).

In what may be one of the most significant events in program history (more on that later), Denard stayed. Al Borges still tried to put Denard under center and Michigan did rep power, but there were enough zone reads incorporated to allow Denard to continue waking up opposing defensive coordinators in cold sweats. You know all of this. You watched it unfold. That also means you watched crimes perpetrated against manpanda and an offense hell-bent on skinning its forehead running against a brick wall before finally, mercifully, abandoning their MANBALL-big-boy-football-noises ideals and exploding out of the shotgun.

This piece is intended to be the counterpoint to the memory’s emphasis on the spectacular. The intent isn’t to accuse, but to take a more calculated look at what exactly happened to Michigan’s offense over the last four years and see where things went well, as well as where and how things stopped functioning.

[After THE JUMP: charts and tables]


Sometimes You Eat The Turnover Bar

Sometimes You Eat The Turnover Bar Comment Count

Brian March 28th, 2012 at 1:24 PM

Turnover margin is a notoriously jittery stat that does not often repeat year to year. Turnovers are infrequent and hugely impactful, so they tend to wander all over the place without much rhyme or reason, slaying or rescuing seasons. Yes, there are obvious repeatable factors that correlate with good or bad turnover margin on a macro level. Get to the quarterback and he will explode in a confetti of bad decisions; allow the opponent to get to yours and watch the same thing occur.

On a micro level, sometimes you eat the bear… sometimes the bear eats you.

Michigan ate the bear last year, recovering around 75% of available fumbles. I know people want to believe there is a narrative that supports this model of football. When I returned from the Mattison coaching clinic presentation, one of the items I mentioned was that Michigan treats all incompletions as live balls in practice. I didn't think that was much of an explanation but a lot of commenters seized on it.

There does not have to be a reason that events transpire. It's not an Eastern thing. Sometimes you eat the bear. Sometimes the bear eats you.

Michigan ate the bear last year, and how. SBN's Bill Connolly put together a stat called "adjusted turnover margin" that assumes an NCAA-average fumble recovery rate (50.3% for the D) and NCAA-average PBU-to-INT ratio (21.9%), compares it to your actual turnovers gained, and calculates a points per game figure Connolly figures is just the bounce of the ball. Drum roll…

Five Teams Who Benefited Most From Turnovers Luck
1. Michigan (+3.97 points/game)
2. Maryland (+3.97)
3. N.C. State (+3.61)
4. South Carolina (+3.61)
5. Oklahoma State (+3.40)

I am Jack's utter lack of surprise. Michigan's overall fumble recovery rate of 75% was first in the nation by a whopping eight percent! (Maryland was #2 at 67%.) They were three standard deviations above the mean! They were a full standard deviation above the #2 team in the country! This aggression against regression to the mean will not stand!


This is the point where I talk about how lucky Michigan got last year and a lot of people say "nuh-uh." This gets a little frustrating on both ends. I get frustrated that something like that Sugar Bowl doesn't bring the point home; people who disagree with me get frustrated that I'm downplaying Michigan's success or being grim about next year.

They're not entirely wrong. I do think that if you replayed the 2011 season 1,000 times Michigan ends up 11-2 in relatively few of them. They were only sort of close in one of their losses*, won two-and-a-half nailbiters** and acquired 10 more turnovers than Connolly's model expects. Michigan also had the benefit of a soft schedule (no Wisconsin or Penn State) in a down Big Ten and an Ohio State team in shambles after tatgate. It was pretty uninspiring in terms of 11-2 years featuring wins over ND, OSU, and a BCS opponent despite undergoing massive transition costs and operating with a slap-dash, attrition-ravaged roster.

Which is to say: WOOOOOOOOOOO. Yes. Score.

But once we get past the woo and start talking about setting expectations for year two we should not base it off what Michigan did last year but what they should have done, what they lost to graduation and attrition, who they return and add, and who they play. We should start with the premise that Michigan was super lucky last year and probably won't be this year.

This doesn't mean their turnover margin is doomed. It just means their turnover margin is doomed unless Denard Robinson becomes a lot more responsible with the ball. Michigan got away with being –7 in interceptions because of the fumble surplus. That covered up a lot of blemishes last year.

What should we expect Michigan's turnover margin to be next year?


Happy Arguments

I am arguing it will be worse. I made similar arguments for much of the Rich Rodriguez era when Michigan was hugely negative every year and dammit it never changed. 

Experience at quarterback. This is a double whammy to the good for Michigan: they've got a senior starter entering his third year and—even more important—his second year in Al Borges's system. A number of Michigan's turrible interceptions a year ago came paired with hand-wavingly-open receivers Michigan's quarterbacks just missed, like this one Gardner chucked against Purdue:


The ball is in the air here, but it's going to the double-covered Gallon instead of the hand-wavingly open Junior Hemingway. This wasn't pressure—Gardner had all day—it was a huge coverage misread. In year two these things should significantly diminish.

Fitzgerald Toussaint could be Mike Hart-like. IIRC Toussaint has not fumbled as a Michigan ballcarrier. As carries move to him from other sources—largely the fumble-prone Denard—Michigan should reduce the number of fumbles that can go against them. Fumble prevention/extraction is a skill.

The defense should be sack happy. Michigan finished 29th last year without getting great production out of its three-tech or weakside defensive end. Will Heininger had one sack last year; Craig Roh and Jibreel Black combined for 5.5. If the moves of Roh and Black inside upgrade the pass rush at three positions, the blitz-mad Mattison D will be in QBs' faces even more than they were last year.

Complicating factor: Mike Martin only had 3.5 sacks last year but his disruption opened things up for other people.

Protection should be good if the line is healthy. Lewan is an all Big Ten left tackle (at least) and Schofield is a touted recruit with a year of quality playing time under his belt with all the tools to pass protect on the edge. Wicked blind-side hits on Denard should be rare.

Sad Arguments

Denard is just turnover-prone. This has been a fact by air and ground ever since he hit the field. While he's going to improve with experience, sometimes players never have that light bulb pop on. Toussaint will shift some carries to his five points of contact but Denard will still get a bunch of carries, and he'll cough the ball up some.

Chucking sure interceptions up to Hemingway will result in interceptions because Hemingway is gone. Unless these are going to Gardner.

Hello massive reversion to the mean on fumble recoveries. If Michigan recovers over 70% of available fumbles this year I'll eat a lemon. Probably at the Rose Bowl.

If a tackle goes down, yeesh. Everyone's assumption is that this would see Kyle Kalis step in at right tackle. Mega-hyped recruit… and a true freshman.

Seriously, Denard is walking variance. I think Michigan will preserve its fairly positive TO margin. If they don't, we will all be sad about Denard's inability to shake the turnover bug. I can't predict he'll be better or worse until we see him play.

There's a reason a couple departing seniors picked Robinson—who was an All-American as a sophomore, remember—as a "breakout player" in that Rothstein article from yesterday($). He could break out. He could run in place, and not know which it will be makes predictions here even more useless than they have been in the past.

You may now return to thinking about Taylor Lewan on a tandem bike.

*[Even if Michigan does score against Iowa they have to get a two-point conversion and then win in OT, which is like a 20% shot.]

**[OSU should not have been since there was no reason to overturn the Toussaint TD that would have ended it.]


Unverified Voracity On Time Lapse

Unverified Voracity On Time Lapse Comment Count

Brian October 6th, 2011 at 12:27 PM

Cannibalism is actually an improvement in their level of civilization. Add Eddie George to the long list of current and former Buckeyes bombing the program:

“It appears to me that Bollman is out there, he’s totally exposed,” George said. “It’s his offense to lose, and clearly he has no idea or concept what to do with them at this point.”

Blue Seoul described the MSU-OSU game as "fun to watch if you don't like either of these teams" and that is so true. It's more true for Ohio State, which was blithely running second and long draw plays as Michigan State run blitzed with nine guys in the box. "OY OY OY this worked with Troy Smith OY," Bollman thinks.

Crack journalism. Well done, Free Press, well done:


Michigan does not have a women's hockey program.

Podcasting in two doses. One with Northwestern blog Sippin' on Purple on which I'm hard to hear and a second with the Michigan Man Podcast.

Time lapse. The Notre Dame game in time lapse photography:

The numbers. It's week six. FO's advanced stats maintain some preseason projections in them for another week or two, but they are increasingly based on events on the field and whoah:

Rank Team FBS
FEI Last
1 LSU 4-0 .304 1 .234 12 .097 8 9.6 6.1
2 Alabama 5-0 .303 3 .342 5 .134 19 9.2 5.0
3 Oklahoma 4-0 .298 2 .359 3 .186 40 10.7 7.1
4 Wisconsin 4-0 .247 4 .600 1 .467 95 10.1 6.2
5 Clemson 4-0 .244 5 .162 19 .206 43 9.2 5.9
6 Michigan 5-0 .241 10 .347 4 .341 74 10.3 5.7
7 Stanford 4-0 .227 9 .405 2 .513 103 11.0 7.1
8 Georgia Tech 4-0 .225 15 .340 6 .441 92 9.3 5.5
9 West Virginia 3-1 .215 13 .138 20 .161 28 8.3 5.3
10 Oklahoma State 4-0 .211 6 .227 13 .156 25 9.8 6.3

Moving up four slots after bombing Minnesota probably means the formula does not yet comprehend how terrible the Gophers are—they did hang tight against USC and FEI ignores games against I-AA foes. Also it does not know just how goofy that ND game is.

Still, how are you doing, Stanford? U MAD?

Block MST3K. So this happened at the Hoover Street Rag:


In the not too distant future, Saturday A.D.
There was a guy named Jordan, not too different from you or me
He worked at Schembechler Institute, just another face in a maize jumpsuit
He did a good job cleaning up the place, but his bosses kinda liked him so they made him play in space

(Curse you GERG!)

We'll send him speedy runners, the best we can find
He'll have to stop, tackle them all as we monitor his mind
Now keep in mind he can't control when the games begin or end
He'll try to keep his sanity with the help of his D-Line friends...


Martin! (I'm Captain!)
Heininger! (Left side!)
Van Bergen! (Where've you been?)
Rooooooooooooooooh! (I'm sophomore!)

If you're wondering how he eats and breathes and other science facts
He's got a meal card and it's set on earth so you can really just relax
For Michigan Defense Theater 3000.

Either you have no idea what that is about or you are no longer reading this post.

Woolfolk comes in. I erroneously left Woolfolk out of the Monday game post talking about the guys who stayed through all this drama, as Rodriguez might say, but in the Michigan blogosphere there is always someone to pick up where you fell short:

And one wonders; why have the Wolverines normally injury prone players been relatively healthy this year while Woolfolk has been injured time and again?  Bad Luck?  Anger an old gypsy woman?  Did the coaches use black magic to keep the guys healthy but the turnover was Woolfolk gets hurt instead?  Did they find some D&D style Rings of Transference to transfer all injuries to Troy as long as everyone was wearing the rings?  Not that I've ever played Dungeons and Dragons or anything.  Like I don't have a level 17 Wizard named Tulmo Falconclaw just sitting around, so don't think that.  I'm just guessing what nerds would say.  FIREBALL!!

It gets even saner from there.

Etc.: Highlights from hockey's season opener. I was not aware that Michigan's first goal was not a lucky bounce but rather a beauty assist from Hyman. Also Hunwick flashes the glove. WAC "instant" replay takes 22 minutes. Cue Special K homer drooling.

Maize Pages belated Minnesota recap. Five hours of Calvin Magee talking about the spread 'n' shred comes three years too late but is still really interesting.


Shotgun Yesterday, Shotgun Today, Shotgun Tomorrow, Shotgun Forever

Shotgun Yesterday, Shotgun Today, Shotgun Tomorrow, Shotgun Forever Comment Count

Brian July 1st, 2011 at 1:12 PM


via flickr user larrysphatpage

Almost nothing drives me more insane than someone who proclaims certain numbers to be bad because these other numbers are better without suggesting a mechanism that would make this true. Via Slate, Murray Chass provides the canonical example:

The stats freaks who never saw a decimal point they didn't worship were ecstatic last year when Zack Greinke won the American League Cy Young award while winning only 16 games. Felix Hernandez, who won 19 and whose 2.49 earned run average was second to Greinke's 2.16, would have been my choice, but the stats guys "proved" that Greinke was the correct choice because of his statistical standing in formulaic concoctions in which we mere mortals do not imbibe.
—Murray Chass,, May 9, 2010.

This makes me clench and unclench my fists helplessly. It seems impossible that you could be this venerated New York Times baseball writer without picking up on the fact that AL pitchers have no control over how many runs their team scores. The fists clench and unclench because attempting to model an argument with Murray Chass about this quickly leads into a cul-de-sac where Chass says something condescending about something he doesn't understand and repeats it ad nauseum as if he believes "no blood for oil" or "drill, baby, drill" is a coherent, self-contained, impregnable point of view.

Presenting Jonah Lehrer, who actually manages to write for Wired despite being able to compose the following:

Consider the case of J.J. Barea. During the regular season, the backup point guard had perfectly ordinary statistics, averaging 9.5 ppg and shooting 44 percent from the field. His plus/minus rating was slightly negative. There was no reason to expect big things from such a little player in the playoffs.

And yet, by Game 4 of the NBA Finals, Barea was in the starting lineup. (This promotion came despite the fact that he began the Finals with a 5-for-23 shooting slump and a minus-14 rating.) What Dallas coach Rick Carlisle wisely realized is that Barea possessed something that couldn't be captured in a scorecard, that his speed and energy were virtues even when he missed his layups (and he missed a lot of layups), and that when he made those driving floaters their value exceeded the point score. Because nothing messes with your head like seeing a guy that short score in the lane. Although Barea's statistics still look pretty ordinary — his scoring average fell in the Finals despite the fact that he started — the Mavs have declared that re-signing him is a priority. Because it doesn't matter what the numbers say. Barea won games.

A man who writes for Wired ascribes JJ Barea's value to "nothing messes with your head like seeing a guy that short score in the lane." Fists clenching and unclenching due to impossibility of refuting argument that stupid. Plenty of other people have tried to do so. Some guy at Deadspin who pointed out that the Mavs are amongst the most stat-obsessed teams in the league. A Baseball Prospectus guy tore apart Lehrer's introductory car analogy, in which car buyers who focus on a couple of barely relevant but easily understandable numbers instead of the important, hard-to-quantity data are Bill James, not Joe Morgan.

It doesn't matter, though. These articles always have a tautologically number-negating logic. The argument goes:

  1. I don't understand statistics*.
  2. People who understand statistics don't understand intangibles.
  3. ???
  4. Therefore my understanding is superior.

Now let's talk about Denard Robinson and last year's offense.

*[This lack of understanding can be many things but is always at least this: statistics are a suggestive tool, not math gospel. To be fair, some people use statistics like they are a golden hammer. These people are very annoying and should be yelled at. Just don't throw the baby out with the bathwater. ]



This came up a lot in the aftermath of the Spring Game, when the quarterbacks strove to make themselves indistinguishable from walk-ons and quite a lot of people put finger under collar and went "uggggghhh." This was met with a round of backlash largely consisting of people pointing at select—sometimes hilariously select—statistics from last year's team in an effort to prove the offense wasn't really that good.

The favorite was a focus on the first halves against good opponents, when Michigan did not score points. This did not escape notice even around here:

The Ohio State game has the power to make whatever happens in it seem like Michigan's season in microcosm, and so the overriding theme of the 2010 season is looking up at the scoreboard at halftime to see Michigan on pace for about 500 yards and about twenty points. Michigan had 238 yards and seven points this time around and instead of a competitive game we got the usual.

Michigan was frustratingly spectacular at getting to the half with almost 300 yards and something like ten points on the board. But using points to evaluate the output of an offense is like using wins to evaluate a pitcher. Events outside the entity you are trying to evaluate have so much impact on that number, it is only a fuzzy explanation of the story.

I have engaged in message board fights and observed many more about whether the Wisconsin game was a failure on the offense's part. At the half the score was 28-0 Wisconsin and the game was as good as over, whereupon Michigan came out of the locker room and scored three straight touchdowns against the UW defense. This would have made the game interesting if Michigan could have forced the Badgers to pass, ever.

My fists do the clenching bit whenever anyone tries to claim the Wisconsin game was evidence Michigan should move away from the spread. The Michigan offense's entire first half:

  1. Michigan drives from their own one yard line to the Wisconsin their 35 before punting.
  2. Michigan drives from their 28 to the Wisconsin 13; Seth Broekhuizen misses a 30-yard field goal.
  3. Three and out from the 36.
  4. Three and out from the 40.

(There was also a meaningless two play drive at the end of the half.) That's not a great four drives. It is a great seven drives if you consider the next three. Meanwhile, the final touchdown against UW is often dismissed as "garbage time" but Badger tacklers on that drive include JJ Watt, Patrick Butrym, and Aaron Henry—all starters—and Michigan hit Roundtree three times for more than 20 yards on a three-minute march. That was not Wisconsin's goal. Even if you still dismiss Michigan's last couple drives as garbage you have to acknowledge that the defense's inability to make them meaningful robbed the offense of opportunities to impress for real.

But you're sitting there and your fists are clenching and unclenching and everything is black and doom and blacky black doom, so maybe it's hard to tell.

Transistors don't give a damn


This is the disconnect. While what seems like a fairly large subset of the fanbase saw wholesale collapse in the Wisconsin game, computers saw two units failing immensely and an offense that put up 442 yards on a defense that gave up 321 on average, scored 31-ish points (computers will credit the offense with acquiring the field position for the field goal and deduct the miss from the special teams; if they deduct from the garbage TD they will use a lower denominator when trying to figure out expected points) on a defense that gave up 21. Statistically, Michigan's offense was at least a standard deviation above the mean against the Badgers.

While the Wisconsin game is the biggest outlier between the offense's actual and perceived performance, it's instructive. It is often lumped in with the crap from last year along with Iowa (tenuous case indeed there), MSU, OSU, and the bowl game. There is no reasonable case it should be. This is why statistics are useful, because meat-emotions often overwhelm our capacity for reason.

These are the questions I think we should be asking in our most robotic voices:

What aspects of last year's performance project most strongly to next year's?

There are three reasons for the gap between points and yards: field position, field goal kicking, and turnovers. The latter two combined to see Michigan's redzone scoring rate rank 109th nationally. The first two are almost entirely out of the offense's control. The latter was a huge problem all three years under Rodriguez. However, turnovers notoriously do not correlate year to year, are heavily dependent on quarterback, experience and saw Rich Rodriguez consistently in the black at West Virginia.

Michigan's turnover issues aren't fate, should improve naturally, and are not related to the spread. Most of Michigan's other issues at turning yards into points are not really the offense's.

That leaves an inherent flaw in the spread offense as a potential culprit that has the potential to repeat next year. Point in favor: Michigan was even worse in the redzone in 2009, finishing with just 49% of available points. Point against: Auburn and Oregon finished in the top ten last year. Further point against from a Football Outsiders study of the NFL:

We took … 20 overachievers and measured their performances the season after said overachievement; while their DVOA [ed: something value over average, a fancy stat they have designed to smooth out noise.]  in the red zone that initial season exceeded their total offensive DVOA by an average of 33.3 percent, in the following season, their DVOA in the red zone exceeded their total DVOA by an average of 1.3 percent. In other words, the teams' performances in the red zone mirrored how they did outside it, implying the overachieving was a fluke.

We also can measure this by using correlation coefficients, a way of measuring the relationship between two variables that results in a number ranging from minus-1 (at which the two variables have an exact inverse relationship) to plus-1 (at which the variables have a perfectly positive relationship). The correlation between a team's performance in the red zone and its overall offensive performance, year to year, is 0.08 -- essentially nil. Teams simply do not exceed their performance in the first 80 yards once they get to the final 20 on a regular basis.

The evidence suggests Michigan's red zone struggles should revert to the mean; the things that made the offense less than the sum of its yards last year are all small sample size outliers.

What's left that does correlate, or at least correlates better? Everything else. On a play by play basis Michigan's offense does well in standard and advanced metrics, and returns ten starters. If they should be better but weren't (because of things that should revert) and can expect similar performance next year (because of all the returning starters), then what should happen is that the expected and actual meet somewhere south of #2 nationally but well within the schwing range.

Is it better to play to Al Borges's strengths or the offense's strengths?

In 2008 this was easy since the offense had no strengths. In 2011 it's a difficult question. Michigan's transition demands that Borges or Denard (and, importantly, the OL) leaves his comfort zone. This is necessarily going to be suboptimal for someone.

The spring game suggests it will be vastly suboptimal for Denard if Borges gets his way, and it seems a lot easier to change playcalls than turn Denard into Jon Navarre. Unfortunately, it's not that easy. The last few years I've documented the ever-evolving Michigan run offense. Rich Rodriguez kept ahead of the curve by constantly adding new wrinkles to the ground game. He was able to do this because of his vast experience with the spread 'n' shred. Al Borges is a smart guy with a lot of experience but his history suggests his inventiveness may be more oriented towards the passing game. If a good chunk of offensive effectiveness is staying ahead of the game, Borges might be able to do that better from a pro-style offense.

But the following is true even in the NFL:

Shotgun formations are generally more efficient than formations with the quarterback under center.

Over the past three seasons, offenses have averaged 5.9 yards per play from Shotgun, but just 5.1 yards per play with the quarterback under center. This wide split exists even if you analyze the data to try to weed out biases like teams using Shotgun more often on third-and-long, or against prevent defenses in the fourth quarter. Shotgun offense is more efficient if you only look at the first half, on every down, and even if you only look at running back carries rather than passes and scrambles.

With an offense outright designed for the shotgun featuring a quarterback whose main asset is his legs, the cutting-edge effect would have to be absurdly important to make the offense more effective from under center.

Does I-form pro-style help you win in ways undefined by conventional statistics?

This is Brady Hoke's theory when he denigrates the zone-heavy spread offense as an impediment to having a good defense. A quick glance at the top defenses in both conventional and fancy measures suggests this is unlikely. TCU, Boise State, and West Virginia  were the top three teams in yardage defense. WVU, Missouri, Oklahoma, Auburn, Oregon, and Mississippi State are all in the top ten in defensive FEI. There appears to be little if any problem with having a top defense opposite your spread 'n' shred offense as long as you account for the increased pace of the spread.

Is it worth sacrificing effectiveness down the road for immediate results?

Unknowable, but there's no better way to quickly put the question marks on Brady Hoke's resume to rest than by having a breakout first season.

Extensive Conclusion Section




Unverified Voracity Opens Cans With Teeth

Unverified Voracity Opens Cans With Teeth Comment Count

Brian June 17th, 2011 at 3:02 PM

Paws for a cause. If you've got a desire to have Michigan football players wait on you, you are in luck:


"Celebrity waiters" is a new phrase to me. Proceeds go to the local Humane  Society; tickets can be purchased here. Order the coconut so your waiter can rip it open with his bare hands. This is not an opportunity that often comes.

I told you so. If the equation "Jersey Shore == Bronzed Juggalos" holds true, last fall's assertion is now approved by the Michigan State athletic director himself:

Mike "the Situation" Sorrentino of Jersey Shore is going to be a #Spartan fan this season. Catch him at a game in Spartan Stadium.

less than a minute ago via twidroyd 

Dave Brandon didn't do anything today, but point Dave Brandon. The Only Colors is at a loss for words but not gifs.

Peering into your basket-soul. Basketball recruiting suddenly turned into hockey recruiting, where it's all like "this kid isn't coming forever but he seems pretty good." It's a risk, but one you might feel like you have to take these days. /yells at cloud

But UMHoops points out Beilein's track record with early commits is stellar:

Glenn Robinson III was considered a second-tier prospect in the state of Indiana but impressed Beilein at Elite Camp and picked up a scholarship offer, since then he’s exploded into to a top-75 player. Tim Hardaway Jr. impressed at Elite Camp and committed shortly after, two years later he was one of the top freshmen in the Big Ten. Now that’s not to say that Beilein uses the six hours at his camp as the only evaluation tool, he’s been down to watch Hatch and Donnal play with their high school squads on many occasions over the last year.

That does not use all the available evidence: Beilein picked up Evan Smotrycz before he rose in the rankings; Jordan Morgan was a recruit so questionable even his dad was like "really?"; Trey Burke fell at AAU-only Rivals but rose elsewhere after a stellar senior year saw him named Ohio Mr. Basketball. Also, Pittsnogle and Gansey and etc. Beilein's got an eye. In this regard he is the anti-Amaker.

Michigan is after a point guard in the 2013 class and appears to be operating under the assumption they have a fourth scholarship available in either 2012 or 2013 that will probably go to a shooting guard or face-up four.

Haters going to notice your blatant contradiction. Excellent catch by Here's Nick Saban discussing the SEC's meaningful but not perfect new legislation on kicking kids the the curb. Before passage:

"In my opinion, it would really affect the quality in our league," Saban said. "You can't know the attrition from signing day until August, which guys who're going to be fifth-year seniors that decide they don't want to come back and play football. Well, you can't count those guys. You're going to have to tell those guys they're going to have to decide in January.

After passage:

"I don't really feel that it's going to create any management issues that's going to affect the quality of play," Saban calmly said Thursday before his annual charity golf tournament that benefits his "Nick's Kids" program. "I think it's all good." describes this as "craw-fishing," which is inexplicable to me but yeah: that dude is totally craw-fishing. What a jerk.

They eat the pig. You know who else needs to feel the pimp hand of the NCAA? North Carolina. Their car business is now just as transparently illicit as Ohio State's:

It appears that one UNC football player accrued 93 parking tickets under nine license plate numbers between October 2007 and August 2009, according to parking records UNC released Thursday and a database search of the University’s Department of Public Safety website. …

The plates in question corresponded to cars including a gray Dodge, a gray Nissan, a black Acura, a black Honda and a green BMW, according to the records.

Greg Little had nine license plates in 22 months. The student newspaper discovered this by searching a public database after UNC was finally sued into releasing records requested under the FOIA act. There is obviously some combination of car trouble, generous grandmothers from poor sections of Durham, footloose and fancy-free car swapping on the whims of a young man feeling the wind in his hair, and OBVIOUS EXTRA BENEFITS UNC WAS BEING SLAPPED IN THE FACE WITH EVERY TIME HE GOT A PARKING TICKET, WHICH WAS APPARENTLY ON A DAILY BASIS that explains how this may have occurred.

Meanwhile, phone records show John Blake was talking to Marvin Austin and Gary Wichard when they were on one of their non-kosher trips. They're going to get hammered, too.

(HT: Doctor Saturday.)

What is luck? Baby don't hurt me, no more. A follow-up to the Pythagorean post from this morning: was Michigan State actually lucky last year? If you listen to Pythagorean expectations, they were. They were the luckiest dang team in the study period, exceeding expectations by a whopping 2.4 wins.

If you're using a more conventional measure of record in close games, they weren't even close to the luckiest team. By my count there were three: wins over ND (34-31, OT), Northwestern (35-27 with a cosmetic touchdown for MSU at the very end), and Purdue (35-31). A six point win over Penn State does not count since PSU scored a touchdown with under a minute left to make the final score more attractive; MSU was a long way from losing that.

3-0 in close games is a bit lucky but nothing out of the ordinary for any team that finishes 11-2. While you would expect any team with 11 wins to regress the next season, there's nothing there that suggests MSU should be unusually likely to drop back to .500 or thereabouts.

The Pythagorean method is blown away by MSU's two losses, utter hammerings at the hands of Iowa and Alabama. I'm not convinced those are as meaningful as the formula would have it.

Etc.: Nobody closes the barn door like the Ohio State Buckeyes. Yost renovations are go. Renaldo Sagesse making his way in the CFL. NCAA poking around agent-type dudes in South Florida, investigating a selection of SEC schools and Ohio State. Doctor Saturday renews call for "East" and "West" division names, which is endorsed by this space. Holdin' the Rope fires up the nostalgia machine and takes us back to the 2010 Indiana game. Remember when Ohio State had a football program? Weird!


Pythagorean Wins And Lucky Monkeys

Pythagorean Wins And Lucky Monkeys Comment Count

Brian June 17th, 2011 at 12:16 PM


I like me some stats, boy howdy, but there's a few things I'm not sure about. One is applying Pythagorean wins to football. For those of you who don't know the name of Data's brother, some smart baseball types realized that baseball teams pretty much try to score runs all the time. This means you can predict future performance better with run differential than record.

It works in basketball, too, because basketball teams pretty much try to score baskets all the time. A team leading may try to suck a possession or two out of the game by stalling late, but that effect is extremely minor. It works in hockey because hockey teams pretty much try to score goals all the time. A team leading late will take fewer risks but that effect is minor, too. Futz with the exponents and it's cool.

You can do this for football as well, but Lloyd/Tresselball observers can tell you that football teams do not try to score points all the time. This is because football has more state—primarily the line of scrimmage—than the other sports, and that state is simultaneously applicable to offense and defense. There is never any reason to not score in baseball or basketball. In football trying to score is riskier than running three isos up the middle and punting in a way that missing a jumper is not. Because of this, lots of personnel turnover, and wildly varying schedules, I don't think raw Pythagorean wins is a particularly useful predictive device. It does correlate some. I just don't like it. I acknowledge this is a Murray Chass sort of criticism.

I bring it up because BHGP has a long post featuring Pythagorean wins that eventually kind of discards the concept by way of praising Northwestern for consistently exceeding expectations. There's a table I'll post a bit later showing eight years of Big Ten performance versus expectations followed up by this:

The fact that most teams have such consistent "luck," when coupled with the fact that close wins and losses appear to be the strongest factor in where a team appears on the list, means this list may not be a measure of "luck," per se, but rather the simple ability to win close games.  Since such ability is presumably based in large part on things like on-field experience, efficient playcalling, and clock management, the list could be considered a measure of a coach's in-game ability.  Is it any wonder that the conference's biggest late-game buffoon and a geriatric who doesn't even wear a headset sit at the bottom of the list?  …

It's also a credit to Pat Fitzgerald and the late Randy Walker at Northwestern.  Even in its worst years, jNWU has outperformed its pythagorean expectations.  In every year included in this study, Northwestern had a positive overall pythagorean margin, and in all but one the LOLcats had a positive margin in conference play.

There is an objection to this based on stock-picking monkeys.

Seriously. In 1999, a six-year-old female monkey named Raven threw darts at a selection of tech stocks that subsequently returned 213 percent. This was a bubble environment but even in that context her performance was impressive—22nd amongst thousands of funds. If you had 64 monkeys do that every year half of them would be discovered to be frauds by not beating the market, but you would expect at the end of that eight year period there would be one very lucky monkey who beat the market for eight consecutive years.

Any normally distributed set of data is going to have a lucky monkey and Ron Zook. I present a lucky monkey and Ron Zook:

Wins – Pythagorean expectation, 2002-2010

Rank Team Ov +/- Conf +/-
1 Northwestern 9.74 8.28
2 Wisconsin 3.18 0.34
3 Indiana 2.00 -2.16
4 Ohio State 1.90 1.21
5 Michigan -0.55 2.15
6 Michigan State -3.38 -0.45
7 Iowa -4.37 -1.21
8 Minnesota -4.65 -2.46
9 Purdue -7.14 -3.30
10 Penn State -8.70 -4.91
11 Illinois -9.31 -5.75

Except… that is not a normally distributed lucky monkey. In conference (which is a more interesting number to me because nonconference schedules are so unbalanced), Northwestern accounts for nearly 70% of the deviation from perfectly Pythagorean records by itself. Lloydball advocates Michigan, OSU, and Wisconsin follow in order, and BHGP points out that Michigan State would be the second luckiest monkey if only the Dantonio era—more MANBALL—was considered. There seems to be something non-monkey there.

But I'm uncertain if that's good or bad if you're a fan. Does this mean manball is good at closing out games, as BHGP suggests the chart shows? It's a possibility. The other possibility (24-21 vs SDSU, 10-7 vs Utah, falling behind by 14 in the Orange Bowl before suddenly remembering David Terrell exists, etc.) is that Lloydball-type play shuts off the offense once it gets a narrow lead or until it falls behind significantly, thus leading to a lot of tight games generally slanted towards wins.

The most haunting stat from the Carr era is this: Carr was actually more likely to win a game if he entered the fourth quarter with a narrow deficit than a narrow lead. Since the point of football is to win more games, period, not more games than you were expected to based on the final score, the excellence of your coaching is bound up with your record. Exceeding expectations as Ohio State means your manball is working (until you get into a championship game). Doing so as Michigan, but never beating Ohio State, means something different.

There's too much weird stuff tied up in scoring points in football to draw many conclusions from a look at just margins. Primarily this comes down to wanting to score, which is a complicated decision based largely on your faith in the defense. This is hard when your defense is good-ish (Michigan) but not when it's terrible (Northwestern) or awesome (Ohio State).  OSU and Northwestern rarely make the wrong decisions because theirs are obvious. Michigan (and Iowa, and Penn State) fans are haunted by the the decisions that turned out wrong.

BONUS GUESS ON NORTHWESTERN: Why would the Wildcats consistently  exceed expectations? Guess: they feature in games with lots of points. Their spread has been as consistently effective as their secondary has been flailing, so a lot of Northwestern games feature large scores. If NW is consistently winning 42-35 that will look different to the formula than OSU grinding out 17-10 wins.

BONUS LOCALLY RELEVANT SECTION: FWIW, only one Michigan team shows up at the margins. If you think about it you'll probably figure it out:

Of course, using the full schedule allows for statistical variance based on strength of non-conference scheduling.  If we look solely at Big Ten play, as close to a level playing field as we can get, Sparty still wins.  It's just not 2010 Sparty:

Rank Team Py +/-
1 2008 Michigan State +2.16
2 2004 Northwestern +1.77
3 2010 Michigan State +1.69
4 2004 Michigan +1.63
5 2009 Northwestern +1.53

 That 2008 Spartan squad went 9-4 (6-2) despite a total margin of victory of +28 and an in-conference margin of -7.  In fact, 2008 Michigan State was one of just five teams since 2002 to post a winning record in the Big Ten despite being outscored in conference play.

The 2004 team that went to the Rose Bowl despite deploying a freshman quarterback thanks to things like nailcoeds.exe outperformed Pythagorean expectation significantly. You might be all like "a HA!" because the next year Michigan slumped to 7-5 in 2005, but they went 11-2 the year after that—there's just so much noise.


Unverified, Contagious, Outrageous Voracity

Unverified, Contagious, Outrageous Voracity Comment Count

Brian June 10th, 2011 at 1:06 PM

Piling on. It's bad when Adult Swim is on your case:

Different kinds of one thing. Braves & Birds makes a good point about oversigning:

The teams that have the greatest incentive to oversign are the middle class or lower class programs that struggle to recruit top players and therefore have to make up with quantity what they cannot acquire in quality.  Thus, we would expect that the most successful teams in the conference would not oversign because they don’t have to do so.  Therefore, looking at results and recruiting quantities is a fool’s errand because Pennington is not normalizing for program status.  In other words, if Florida signs 85 players over a four-year period and Ole Miss signs 105, we wouldn’t expect Ole Miss to have a better record because the extra players will not trump all of the other advantages that Florida has over Ole Miss.  

There are two kinds. The first kind (as practiced by Houston Nutt): "maybe if I sign everyone who can play football enough of them will be eligible for me to keep my job." The second: <imperial march> SABAN </imperial march>.

Here's a graph from Brian Fremeau that gives you an indication of just how few kids enroll at Ole Miss relative to the rest of the nation's top 25 recruiters:


Nutt is way down at the bottom with VT, who no one ever talks about; South Carolina, USC(?), and Auburn a bit higher up, then a big band of average followed by places that do not bother with academic issues either because they are morally opposed to skeeze (no one) or don't have to bother (everyone). You'll note LSU and Florida amongst this group. Teams towards the bottom can plausibly argue that their oversigning is less harmful because it consists of signing guys who aren't going to be eligible instead of shoving kids in good standing out the door.

Meanwhile, an SEC partisan is fussin' about Big Ten fans complaining about the competitive advantage provided by oversigning:

Is there some advantage?  Sure.  SEC teams from 2002 through 2010 averaged 3.42 signees per victory.  Big Ten teams average 3.11 signees over the same period.  Hardly the night and day difference one would expect.

But while oversigning isn’t the magic bullet Big Ten fans would want you to believe, things like local talent base, tradition and spending serve as tried and true differentiators.

We at aren’t fans of oversigning.  As noted above, we would have no problem if every school went to a hard cap at 25.

But the argument that oversigning is the difference between the SEC and the Big Ten?  Well, that doesn’t hold water.  And as you can see above, that argument doesn’t even hold water when you make comparisons within the same conference.

Ole Miss throws that entirely out of whack, as do a number of mid-level strivers that are rooting through any large-ish kid in the south to see if any of them can play football.

Meanwhile, I haven't seen many (or any) Big Ten fans say it is the difference between the SEC and the Big Ten. This whole thing is a red herring, anyway: the institutions most publicly against oversigning are Georgia and Florida. Ability to identify skeeze does not stop at the Mason-Dixon line.

It's an obvious advantage that's built on perverse incentives, which is reason enough to get rid of it, differences between conferences be damned. For an SEC fan to rabble rabble about how it's not that big of an advantage on the field misses the point in stereotype-fulfilling fashion.

Terrelle Pryor's lawyer. Is Jackie Chiles:

"It was probably good for Terrelle to meet persons like myself, African-American lawyers, very successful -- quote, unquote," James said. …

"Irrespective of how harsh and idiotic we think some of the NCAA rules are, they are still on the books," James said. "They had slavery for all those years. Those rules are still on the books, and the courts uphold them."

James then ranted about the NCAA and its enforcement process.
"You've got a captured system here in college football. It's mandated, dictated, the student-athletes have no rights. They have no relief."

That is all.

That is not all. Bombs continue to drop on Pryor from all angles. Random NFL GM:

“We spent a lot of time this year going through Cam Newton(notes) and Ryan Mallett’s(notes) personality,” an NFC general manager said. “I haven’t done all my homework on Pryor yet, but my initial impression is that if you line all three of them up and just talked about trust and reliability, Pryor is dead last. Like not-even-out-of-the-starting-gate last.

“And it’s probably only going to get worse.”

Some guy in an otherwise pretty kind Dispatch story:

"People are terrified," Davis said. "They want to really examine the kid as a person, because the stories you hear on the grapevine are not stories that excite you - stories about his leadership, how his teammates respond to him, how he was handled at Ohio State."

And Thayer Evans wrote a story I linked in the sidebar that says an 18 year old male enjoyed having girls send sexy photos to him. I've been on the Terrelle Pryor-emotional-problems bandwagon so long I remember when it was just me and some nuts from Penn State message boards and even I think Evans went a bit too far:

Pryor’s focus consistently led back to one thing: himself.

And while some may foolishly believe Pryor’s statement Tuesday that his decision to forgo his senior year at scandal-ridden Ohio State was out of “the best interests of my teammates,” the truth is that he did it out of selfishness. He did it only to escape being investigated by the NCAA and to try to salvage what’s left of his bleak future.

Well… yeah… but you write for, like, organizations, man.

(Also, Dispatch lol:


The best part about this is the cooler poopers are doing it to themselves.)

Do not read if you are only going to make a tedious argument that shows you don't understand statistics. Bill Connolly, purveyor of Football Outsiders' other college football ranking system and Football Study Hall author, previews Michigan. There are many numbers and a discussion of just how good Michigan's offense was last year (as per usual, advanced stats == fawning) that people who would like to restrict their sample size to four first-half drives against Wisconsin won't like:

If only Michigan had been able to play defense. Despite a slight fade as the season advanced, the Wolverines' offense was incredibly successful in 2010, posting huge point and yardage totals on a series of stellar defenses. Their Adj. Points tell the tale -- against a strong slate of defenses, the Wolverines produced at an incredibly high level for each of the first nine games of the season before a combination of injuries and fatigue (and, possibly, lack of faith in the defense) set in. Michigan still averaged 28.9 Adj. PPG over their final four games, with only two below-average performances against Purdue and Mississippi State.

I'm not sure where Connolly's getting the idea Michigan blitzed on almost every passing down, however. Even if he has numbers for this I kind of doubt them, since I tracked rushers for the Indiana UFR and came up with a ton of 3 and 4 man rushes. If that's charted I wonder if the 3-3-5 threw someone off.

Anyway, Connolly's takeaway is "I hope they don't turn Denard into Brad Smith that one year they tried to make him a pro-style quarterback": since they don't like Nebraska as much as everyone else and their system looks at recruiting rankings that drastically overrate Michigan (attrition) they're hinting the FO Almanac will have Michigan at or near the top of the division.

WTF? I know we're supposed to be taking the high road and all but seriously, if anyone could be expected to jovially bomb Ohio State in the paper it's Mike Hart. Mike Hart:

"I really think Jim Tressel is a great coach," Hart said. "I hate the school, I hate Ohio, can't stand them, but I think he's a great coach. Whatever happened didn't make him a better coach. The players were doing wrong, and (Tressel) broke the rules, which obviously is wrong, but it's not like he was giving them steroids to give them a competitive advantage."

Guh. Multiple other former players say they "genuinely feel" for the other players caught up in this situation who have nothing to do with it, which seems a little much. We're concerned about Ohio State walk-ons and kickers now?

Etc.: Laurinaitis and the Real Girl. Wetzel hears call to argue why OSU's violations aren't as bad as USC's, argues that OSU's violations are worse than USC's. The Wolverine Blog searches for breakout players.


Turnover Turnaround Take Three

Turnover Turnaround Take Three Comment Count

Brian May 17th, 2011 at 12:04 PM

The most persistently wrong thing I was wrong about amongst the many persistently wrong things I asserted about Rich Rodriguez and his bite-sized Era at Michigan was:  "that turnover margin is going to be a lot closer to zero this year." Or words to that effect.

I should have been right, or at least in the general ballpark of right. Rodriguez's West Virginia teams were consistently in the black. Turnover margin is so weakly correlated from year to year that Phil Steele annually puts out a "turnovers = turnaround" post highlighting teams with double-digit swings in either direction so that he can predict against the teams with big numbers and in favor of the teams with little tiny ones. Here's your favorite team:

Going Up TO

And here's how that worked out:


Amongst the many things that got Rodriguez fired, the persistently huge negative turnover margin is neck and neck with transferpalooza and program alum white blood cells for second place.

So these days, running across stats like these

running the correlation between one year's turnover margin and the next, I found that the correlation was a mere 12%. That's still something, but it's clear that for most teams, the turnover margin they enjoy one year has virtually zero predictive value for the turnover margin they will enjoy the next year. That means that on average, teams with substantially positive margins will see major decline in margin the next year, and teams with substantially negative margins will see major improvement the next year. A team with a -10 turnover margin in 2009, for example, would have an expected turnover margin of -1.2 in 2010, an improvement of nearly a full turnover per game!

…make me want to bang my head against the wall. Of course Michigan would be as large of a chunk of that correlation as possible, and of course they would be on the negative side of things. Thump. Thump. (The only thing worse than defying this correlation is defying the correlation between turnovers and wins: GTP points out Georgia went from –16 to +10 and still finished two games worse than they did last year. That would seriously harsh my buzz if I was a Georgia fan.)

I have tried to make the world make sense and this is what I've come up with:

  • The correlation is so low because quarterbacks are so important. The general path of a quarterback is: bench, horrible interception-laden youth, cool as a elderly cucumber, repeat. When you have a senior quarterback you are likely to have a good turnover margin and guaranteed to not have that guy back next year.
  • The same goes for everywhere else, albeit to a lesser extent. Good defenses tend to have seniors on them and tend to not have many returning starters.
  • Michigan eschewed the general path in favor of freshmen or equivalents. Rodriguez never started the same guy two years in a row, and while that turned out to be the right decision it meant three straight years of horrible interception-laden etc.
  • When your defense is so, so bad you escape TO margin gravity. AKA GERG. Also, what's the one thing that consistently generates turnovers? QB pressure. Michigan finished 98th in sacks and loved them some three-man rushes.

So while year-to-year correlation is low across college football, if you correct for experience—especially at QB—and maybe lack of prominent walk-ons/converted WRs in the secondary that 12% would be significantly larger. Michigan's program got so messed up that they stopped participating in the circle of turnovers*. Instead they laid at the bottom of the national rankings, a corpse dragged down by redzone interceptions.

Seriously, This Time It's Serious

Um… so… there's the above theory. And then there's Denard Robinson, Michigan's first returning starter at QB since Chad Henne. And then there's Greg Mattison and a defense that uses Craig Roh as a pass rusher instead of a clunky linebacker. There are a bunch of returning starters everywhere, including four guys on the offensive line.

I'm going to be the guy who puts his hat on a stick and pokes it out of a trench to see if there are any snipers around, again: Michigan's turnover margin should scream towards zero this year. They've got gravity on their side and many things besides. Also, Brady Hoke's miraculous digestive tract will move all that Tyler Sash wackiness to Ann Arbor.

This is the year Michigan has a mediocre turnover margin. Believe.