Pessimism is realism. This is the mantra. We aren't being hyperbolic Chicken Littles, screaming the sky is falling, we are simply recognizing what the ostriches will not. I am a natural pessimist. This thing that happens is the worst thing and of course it happened, because why wouldn't it? In the wake of another depressing loss to the Buckeyes (wouldn't it have been easier, emotionally, to just get the doors blown off, false hope is the worst thing, etc.), the 15th in 17th years, I sought solace in numbers. Sure, numbers are open to interpretation, but they also don't lie.
Michigan's competition (as a football program) lies in Columbus, East Lansing, and State College. This is how the program is judged. Below, is a comparison in three parts. The first examines record, i.e. wins and losses, i.e. what we care about. The second examines yardage and margin of victory, i.e., how badly have you beaten teams and how badly have they beaten you. The third looks at advanced stats, created by people much smarter than I, to measure exactly how good a team is.
AREA 1: RECORD
|COACH||W-L||CONF. W-L||H||A||VS RIVALS||VS TOP 10||VS TOP 25||VS FINAL TOP 10||VS FINAL TOP 25||BOWLS||FINAL AP||DIV/CONF. TITLES|
POINT OF EMPHASIS #1: HARBAUGH VS. RIVALS AND TOP 10 TEAMS
The W/L complaints about Harbaugh start and end here. Yes, he's five games worse than Urban in 3 years, but that's essentially a game or two every year. Meyer won the title the year before Harbaugh got there. Michigan went 5-7. Urban had a bit of a head start. This is a concerning trend, however. That 3-6 includes 1-5 against Michigan's two actual rivals. What's the cause? I'd like to say Michigan has been good, not great, but when we get to parts 2 and 3, that doesn't entirely seem to be the case. Urban has been slightly better against team that finish in the Top 10, but Harbaugh has basically the same record as Dantonio and Franklin over the past 3 years. A lot of voices will be silenced if Michigan wins the "big games".
POINT OF EMPHASIS #2: MICHIGAN STATE WAS BAD LAST YEAR
This obviously skews Dantonio's numbers, but it shows the volatility in MSU's success (something that will bear out in parts 2 and 3). They weren't 3-9 bad last year, but they weren't 12-2 good in 2015, either. Would we trade a CFP appearance for a 3-9 last year? I'm not so sure I would, especially if it ended in a destruction at the hands of Alabama (I have bad memories of Jerry World in 2012).
POINT OF EMPHASIS #3: HOLY CRAP, JAMES FRANKLIN'S HOME VS. ROAD SPLITS
Before I dug into the numbers, I had no idea that Franklin was Nick Saban at home and Brady Hoke on the road. Outside of the 1 point loss this year against the Buckeyes, those losses have either been blowouts or against average teams.
AREA 2: YARDAGE AND MARGIN OF VICTORY
|COACH||WINS BY 20+||LOSSES BY 20+||1 SCORE WINS||1 SCORE LOSSES||OUTGAINED||OUTGAINED BY 200+||GOT OUTGAINED||GOT OUTGAINED BY 200+||W/L|
POINT OF EMPHASIS #1: WHAT DOES W/L AT THE END MEAN?
Wins are how many games your team was outgained but you still won. Losses are the reverse. How many games did you lose when you outgained the opponent?
POINT OF EMPHASIS #2: HARBAUGH VS DANTONIO IN CLOSE GAMES
I defined games decided by 1 score or less as games that finished within 8 points. Look at Michigan State's record in the past three years. NFL guys who look at these sorts of numbers love to mention regression to the mean. Normally, you can expect teams to finish around .500 in these coin flip games. Somehow, Dantonio has connived his way to a 12-5 record. Meanwhile, Jim Harbaugh has been somewhat snakebitten. The 4 wins were two OT games against Indiana, the game against Minnesota, and last year's 7 point win against Wisconsin in which they nearly tripled the Badgers yardage. The 6 losses include the dropped punt, two 1 point losses last year, the travesty in Columbus and this year's monsoon game. At some point, you have to believe this will turn around.
POINT OF EMPHASIS #3: MICHIGAN AND OHIO STATE DOMINATE WEAKER FOES
Yardage totals aren't perfect, but they can be a good barometer for how much a team controls a game. Michigan and Ohio State have bludgeoned lesser opponents (usually a sign of dominant, as opposed to good, teams). Michigan has twice as many games where they've decimated teams as Penn State and four times as many as Sparty in the past 3 years. That speaks well to the talent level at Michigan right now (those games have been more prevalent the past two years).
POINT OF EMPHASIS #4: JAMES FRANKLIN IS SOMEWHAT LUCKY AS WELL
He's 8-5 in 1 score games which isn't too far above the norm, but Penn State has won 5 games where they've gotten outgained the past 3 years. I didn't take a look at TO data, but I have to imagine that plays a factor. That said, I think a few of these games were of the "Penn State's offense gets a short field and scores when Barkley breaks 8 tackles and then their defense bends, but doesn't break" variety.
AREA 3: S&P & RECRUITING
|COACH||S&P OVERALL||S&P OFFENSE||S&P DEFENSE||247 CLASS RANK|
|Harbaugh||#5 / #3 / #22||#38 / #41 / #72||#3 / #2 / #10||#37 / #8 / #5 / #14|
|Meyer||#4 / #5 / #1||#20 / #23 / #5||#9 / #5 / #12||#7 / #4 / #2 / #1|
|Dantonio||#14 / #57 / #30||#31 / #66 / #104||#13 / #41 / #7||#23 / #17 / #36 / #30|
|Franklin||#35 / #8 / #6||#62 / #18 / #12||#16 / #14 / #13||#14 / #20 / #15 / #3|
POINT OF EMPHASIS #1: FIX THE OFFENSE
The second valid complaint against Harbaugh is that the offense hasn't improved since he's been here, in fact, it got significantly worse this year. Brian has aptly pointed out that ultimately these issues stem from poor O-Line play and the issues at QB. Next year will be extremely important from an appearance standpoint. Michigan will have 3 highly ranked OL in the interior, a returning highly ranked QB, and all their weapons back. They just have to figure out the tackle situation.
POINT OF EMPHASIS #2: OHIO STATE HAS THE BEST PLAYERS
Stars matter. Look at those damn class rankings. If we're all wondering what happened on Saturday, look no further. Urban's backup QB is a high 4-star. They had 5-star Jeffrey Okudah making special teams tackles (and committing interference on a PR). Michigan's QB was a generic 3-star transfer from the American. It's going to be an uphill battle against these guys for the forseeable future.
POINT OF EMPHASIS #3: JAMES FRANKLIN OWES JOE MOORHEAD A BEER
Franklin better hope that Moorhead sticks around and somehow finds a way to clone Saquan Barkley. I'm not 100% sure that if Moorhead leaves and Miles Sanders isn't the aforementioned clone, that Penn State doesn't struggle next year. Their O-Line still isn't up to par and they still rely on a lot of jump balls to succeed.
POINT OF EMPHASIS #4: LET'S SEE HOW FAR DISRESPEKT TAKES YOU
Michigan State had a rough close to 2017 in the recruiting world and 2018 hasn't started a ton better. It's easy to say that Dantonio has molded these diamonds in the rough before, but eventually they are going to miss on some of these guys and have trouble plugging gaps.
If you want a TL;DR version, it's this:
Harbaugh is about even with his peers, though definitely hasn't gotten Michigan to Ohio State's level just yet. The criticism about Michigan not winning big games is certainly justified given the record against MSU and OSU and against Top 10 opponents. The trend on offense is worrisome, but the hope is steady QB play and a developing O-Line helps turn that around. James Franklin and Mark Dinatnonio have been more lucky than good. Urban Meyer has all the best players and that's why he wins a lot of games (but, he's a fine coach as well).