Cripple Fight: Year Edition

Submitted by Brian on December 1st, 2008 at 11:26 AM

cripplefight

(via College Game Balls)

So. It has come to this: deciding whether Notre Dame 2007 or Michigan 2008 was a worse football team. Ink and blood has been spilled already; let's get down to business.

GROUND RULES

"Worse" is subjective, so a definition. In general we're trying to determine which team would win more games if you had a hypothetical matchup between them and every other team in the country. We make a key assumption: the average competence of college football teams did not change between 2007 and 2008.

Also note that football games are 6% shorter this year, which provides more time for crappy teams to get blown out. When we look at overall margins keep that in mind: Michigan's should be a little bit better just because there was less time to suck in.

THE BASICS

Both teams went 3-9, obviously. Despite Notre Dame claims to the World's Most Dangerous Schedule last year, their SOS rank according to Sagarin actually trails Michigan's: ND was #24 in 2007; Michigan is #21. If the Big Ten experiences wholesale destruction in bowl games that will drop a little, but at the very least Michigan's 2008 schedule grades out as Notre Dame's equivalent.

Other metrics in table form:

  Michigan Notre Dame Verdict?
Record 3-9 3-9 Push
SOS #21 #24 Push pending bowl results
Yardage Gap -76 -115 Michigan
Average Score 20-29 16-29 Michigan
TO Margin -0.83 (#107) 0 (#55) Michigan*
Total D 367 (#66) 357 (#39) Notre Dame
Total O 290 (#111) 242 (#119) Michigan
Scoring D 28.9 (#90) 28.8 (#72) Notre Dame
Scoring O 20.3 (#97) 16.4 (#116) Michigan

On that asterisk: It's a long-held tenet of this blog that turnover margin is mostly random, so a team serious afflicted by turnovers is probably a better team than another team that has similar scoring marks but a larger negative yardage gap.

It's impossible to save the suspense given the above: ND had a marginally tougher defense than Michigan but the gap between offenses was immense; Michigan's yardage gap was 34% smaller, scoring gap 31% smaller, and all that with a horrific, likely fluky turnover margin.

The answer here is Notre Dame. But let's dig a little deeper just to make sure.

GAME BY GAME

Actual Victories

It's hard to line these up separately. You can pair off Michigan's uninspiring win over a completely awful Fake Miami team (2-9 pending 2-10) with Notre Dame's uninspiring win over a completely awful Duke team. But then Michigan had one win over a completely mediocre and poorly coached BCS team that ended up around .500 and snuck into a bowl; this is about on par with ND's UCLA win last year… if Wisconsin's top eight quarterbacks had been killed in a cheese tragedy. And Stanford (4-8 and mostly roadkill except for three fortunate victories) doesn't match up with Minnesota (a fraud-licious 7-5 but still bowl eligible) at all.

Michigan gets the nod here, because there's a sizable gap between QB-less UCLA/Stanford and Wisconsin/Minnesota.

The Usual Losses

Epic destruction by highly talented chief rival. There isn't much to choose from here:

Michigan Notre Dame
VERSUS Ohio State USC
Score 7-42 0-38
Yardage Gap -218 -297

Minor points to Michigan for keeping it closer for longer: they were down 14-7 at the half instead of 17-0 and made it look like a game until a disastrous pair of runs turned first and ten from the OSU nine into a touchdown and the floodgates opened. Notre Dame never looked like making USC sweat.

But, yeah: PUSH.

Epic destruction by secondary rival with a fair bit of talent themselves.

Michigan Notre Dame
VERSUS Penn State Michigan
Score 17-46 0-38
Yardage Gap -191 -194

Also please recall that Ryan Mallett made his college debut in the M-ND game with Henne sidelined.

This is clearly a Michigan advantage. Notre Dame was playing a 9-4 team's backup quarterback. Michigan was playing the healthy Big Ten champions. Michigan actually led at halftime and the game was close until midway through the third, when Nick Sheridan entered and hope died. Notre Dame yakety saxed its way through the 2007 Michigan game and never seemed like a threat.

Verdict: Michigan.

Somewhat Close Game Against Either A Complete Non-Rival Or A Team You Swear To God Isn't Your Rival And Condescendingly Call "Fredo" Despite The Fact Fredo Has Beat Your Ass Six Straight Times, Oh And By The Way These Teams Are Pretty Good, Say Top 10-15-ish.

Michigan Notre Dame
VERSUS Utah Boston College
Score 23-25 14-27
Yardage Gap -134 -237

It's stretching "somewhat close" to call a 13-point game in which you're outgained 2-1 "somewhat close," but ND was within six as late as 7 minutes left in the third quarter, so that's close-ish. ND got a Sharpley touchdown and a Matt Ryan pick six to stay in it after falling behind 20-0, immediately gave up a response touchdown, and never threatened again.

Meanwhile, Michigan actually led 10-6 early before Louie Sakoda ripped off a field goal festival (with a touchdown pass from Brian Johnson in there); midway through the third quarter it was 25-10. Michigan blocked a Sakoda punt and got a one-play TD bomb to Junior Hemingway, then benefited from a Utah fumble to punch in another touchdown to get within two; the two-point conversion failed. Michigan would have two cracks at a game-winning field goal drive, getting neither.

Neither of these games suggested the team in question was competitive without flukes, but Michigan kept the yardage a lot closer and had a legitimate shot to win; ND did not.

Verdict: Michigan.

Utterly Humiliating Close Loss Involving Field Goals And The Throwing Of Remotes And Such

Michigan Notre Dame
VERSUS Toledo Navy
Score 10-13 44-46
Yardage Gap -17 +37

Navy was 8-5, beat Pitt, and had a close game against Utah in the bowl game. They ere also lost to Ball State, beat Duke by 3, and gave up 62 points to North Texas. But they weren't a 3-8 MAC team.

Verdict: Notre Dame.

Getting Your Head Kicked In By A Meh Opponent

Michigan Notre Dame
VERSUS Notre Dame Michigan State
Score 17-35 14-31
Yardage Gap +128(!) -151
VERSUS Michigan State Penn State
Score 21-35 10-31
Yardage Gap -221 -96
VERSUS Illinois Georgia Tech
Score 20-45 3-33
Yardage Gap -182 -150

This actually comes in three flavors, as you can see above. The above opponents match up pretty well: ND 2008 is a totally mediocre .500 team like Michigan State 2007; Illinois 2008 is a totally mediocre .500 team like Georgia Tech 2007; Michigan State 2008 is a 9-3 team probably a bit worse than its record that hovers at the edge of the top 25; so did Penn State last year.

Despite Michigan's ability to keep the score closer in all these games, the overall here is a push, I think. Michigan's loss to ND may have been a turnover-filled fluke but the only reason they were even close to State was the Spartans grim determination to miss field goals, turn the ball over, and generally Sparty it up. I guess you can hand out points to Michigan for making it look like a game against MSU and Illinois, but… no. Push.

Loss to Severely Undertalented Team With Surplus Of White Dudes

Michigan Notre Dame
VERSUS Northwestern Air Force
Score 14-21 24-41
Yardage Gap +7 -101

Northwestern and Air Force are very similar teams here: 9-3, bowl pending, versus 9-4; wins largely garnered against the weakest schedule the teams could line up. Michigan led 14-7 at the half and gave up two quick touchdowns in the third quarter, which finished the scoring on a miserable day at Michigan Stadium. Notre Dame was down 17-10 at the half; Air Force blew it open in the third and ND never recovered.

A much closer game against a similar quality opponent gives Michigan the nod here.

Purdue

The problem with getting all these games to line up is that eventually you're stuck with the leftovers and sometimes the last one makes no sense. In this case we're comparing an 8-5 Purdue team to a 4-8 one.

It's not that ridiculous a comparison, though. Purdue's conference record was just one game worse this year; adding Oregon and a Notre Dame team that wasn't the 2007 edition turned 7-5 into 5-7 and robbed the Boilers of a chance to pad their winning percentage with a 3-point victory over a MAC team. The underlying team quality isn't too different.

Anyway:

Michigan Notre Dame
VERSUS Purdue Purdue
Score 42-48 19-33
Yardage Gap -222 +55

Yeah, "yardage gap" does not come close to describing what happened in these two games. Michigan got a punt return touchdown that doesn't count there; Purdue ran a 60-yard fake punt that does. Michigan and Purdue were tied until a last-minute hook and ladder put Purdue up for good; Notre Dame was down 23-0 at halftime, though they did pull within seven halfway through the fourth quarter. Purdue immediately drove down the field for a clinching touchdown

So, a nailbiter against a slightly worse Purdue team or a not-that-close game against a slightly better one? Eh: push.

THE COUNT

In the losses category we have one for Notre Dame—not losing to a three-win MAC team—and maybe the Purdue game if you're being generous. For Michigan, we have a vaguely competitive game against Penn State, a narrower loss to the whitest team on the schedule, and a much closer game against the top 10-15 opponent. Also, Michigan's wins (all three!) are superior to Notre Dame's.

Again: Michigan was less resolutely awful.

THE TRUMP CARD

Yakety Sax II:

Yakety Sax III:

Now, this is subjective and all that, but Yakety Sax II is far more yakety-sax-y to this correspondent.

FINAL VERDICT

Congratulations, Michigan, you are the champion. Of not being the worst power team of the decade. Barely.

WOO

Woooo!

Comments

Clarence Beeks

December 1st, 2008 at 11:41 AM ^

Awesome job (as usual) brian, that was a good read. Now, what I would LOVE to know is how this year's Michigan team stacks up against this year's Notre Dame team. I realize that the head to head and the records would make it appear that Notre Dame would pull it out, but I'm not so sure that would be the case.

Clarence Beeks

December 1st, 2008 at 2:14 PM ^

No shit Sherlock. What part of my post where I said just that did you not understand? That said, if you think it's THAT simple I'm going to go out on a limb and guess that (1) you didn't watch that game and (2) you didn't watch any of Notre Dame's other games this season. For that matter, based on your simplistic logic I would suspect that you believe that Texas should be playing in the Big 12 championship game.

Clarence Beeks

December 1st, 2008 at 3:31 PM ^

No offense, but I really don't understand the attitude here. I'm pretty sure that everyone here would agree that the game that was played this year was not an accurate indicator of these two teams because of the essentially negated second half and especially when you consider the body of work that constituted the remainder of the season for each team. I'm not quite sure why a validly debatable question needs to receive such smartass answers.

caup

December 1st, 2008 at 12:05 PM ^

that all 9 of their losses were to Bowl teams. Michigan lost to 4 teams who didn't even wind up with a winning record.

Also, I think only fumbles are somewhat random. INTs are not. Shitty QBs throw interceptions pretty regularly and they aren't flukes. You could set a clock to Rex Grossman's next pick last year. I would separate INTs from the rest of the turnovers.

J. Lichty

December 1st, 2008 at 12:06 PM ^

look at the coaching situation. We are in year one of a rebuilding. ND was in year ten of returning to glory.

I think watching the two teams, I would give M a slight nod. We were more suceptible to big plays, which skewed the defensive stats against.

Offense we were far younger than ND.

The point is, that looking at the future from this season, I am not despondent. I would be if I were an ND fan last season.

Now if we are as bad as this year's edition of the gold standard, then I think we need to really look at the two year comparison and I may change my mind.

imafreak1

December 1st, 2008 at 12:57 PM ^

If the 2 teams played over and over eternally in anti-Valhalla Stadium, I tend to think M 2008 would win more of the games (if only because the DL would own ND's OL) but would lose when they played Toledo-like or pretended kick-offs and punts were radioactive.

bronxblue

December 1st, 2008 at 1:12 PM ^

Great post Brian - it was on point, and also left open lots of areas where the ND faithful can scream "subjectivity!!!!" and argue their team was better.

The biggest difference I saw between these two teams was the appearance of competency, and in that respect UM won hands-down. I don't know how many times last year I would flip over to NBC and catch ND down 20 in the first half. Say what you will about UM's numerous collapses this year, but the team generally played competitively in all the games, with the wheels falling off in some short burst during the 3rd quarter.

I guess my argument goes like this:

UM 3rd quarter clusterfrick of self-destruction >> ND 1st quarter clusterfrick of self-destruction.

JeremyB

December 1st, 2008 at 1:27 PM ^

Not that I'm less biased, but Yakety Sax 2006 and 2007 > 2008. This year's video is actually called "yakety sax version," and that appears in the title card, since the joke is always funnier when you have to explain it twice.

Additionally, nobody on the current Michigan roster held a press conference gesturing to the audience with four championship rings while announcing which school he'd be attending.

The Nicker

December 1st, 2008 at 2:01 PM ^

. . . A Team You Swear To God Isn't Your Rival And Condescendingly Call "Fredo" . . .

Shouldn't we be comparing the BC game to our game with State, and not our game with the Utes?

Md23Rewls

December 1st, 2008 at 2:39 PM ^

I think you should have mentioned that Zoltan the Inconceivable's net punting ability meant that Michigan was always slightly better than the actual yard differential would suggest. So, they're even slightly more better than 2007 Notre Dame.

caup

December 1st, 2008 at 3:45 PM ^

the validity of head-to-head results must always be considered the best, clearest evidence of who the better team is that year. We played a game. They won. They are better. If you start to now question the validity of that logic then everything is a bunch of bullshit where the loser can scream "do over!" and claim the game didn't really count. The game counts. There is a gravity to its result that must be respected. When we beat another team we expect that same respect for the outcome.

Not only that, the game wasn't even close and it wasn't determined by an error in officiating. You're coming off as a sore loser with your head in the sand.
I hope that answers your question.

Clarence Beeks

December 1st, 2008 at 4:07 PM ^

I understand that, but that's not what I was doing. My point was that a more apt comparison is probably this year's Michigan team against this year's Notre Dame team. I'm hardly a sore loser, and my head is definitely not in the sand. I clearly stated in my initial post that to even consider my point you had to evaluate the weight of the head-to-head result. I never, ever said the game didn't count (extra emphasis on never and ever). That said, the fact that the game counts doesn't really say anything to address my point though, because as we've now seen with Texas and Oklahoma, according to a hell of a lot of people in the college football world, head-to-head is not the be all, end all. In other words, according to those who actually matter in the college football world, head-to-head is a FACTOR, but not the determinitive factor. Again, thanks for answering a legitimate question with a smartass answer. Next time I suggest trying to apply some advanced reading comprehension and logic to understand the precise point being made.

chitownblue (not verified)

December 1st, 2008 at 4:15 PM ^

Seriously, dude, what metric do you want to use to show that 2008 UM is better than 2008 ND?

Is it PPG? Notre Dame scored 2.6 more.

Is it Points Against? Notre Dame allowed 6.6 less per game.

Is it yards against? Notre Dame allowed 40 less per game.

Is it yards for? Notre Dame had 54 more per game game.

Time of Possession? Notre Dame had the ball for 4 more minutes per game.

Literally the only stat in which we out-performed them was yards per punt.

So rather than complaining about how people are reacting to your "point" that you don't even deign to support, why don't you make your case? If it's persuasive, people will stop laughing about it. But instead, you throw out an unsupported hypothetical that is, on first look, laughable, and then complain when people laugh? Come on.

Clarence Beeks

December 1st, 2008 at 4:30 PM ^

I asked a FUCKING QUESTION. I never claimed to make a point beyond that I raised the question. How does one "make a case" for question? Read my first post and I think you can figure it out. Could I have put together those stats, yes obviously, but I was kind of busy at the moment so I asked a question in case anyone else knew. Seriously, why are you always such a dickhead to people in your responses?

chitownblue (not verified)

December 1st, 2008 at 4:32 PM ^

Clarence, you said you thought Michigan might be a better team THIS YEAR. People widely disagreed with you. You complained that they weren't answering "seriously", and were just making fun. I answered "seriously" - with stats and evidence. I don't pretend that it's comprehensive (you probably want to look at schedule strength, too), and now you're accusing me of being a dick. I'll admit that my last paragraph was rough, but if you pose a theory (which you did), and people roundly disagree with it, you should accept it, and maybe take a second look and see if what you said made sense before getting defensive.

You said that "you bet" that 2008 Michigan and 2008 Notre Dame would be similar. That is stating an opinion, not asking a question. If that's not what you intended, I'm sorry, but clearly that's what numerous people read.

Clarence Beeks

December 1st, 2008 at 4:37 PM ^

You're right. I am irritated that people didn't take it seriously because as the data that YOU provided shows, several of the categories show a closer relationship between the two teams THIS SEASON. My problem is not in accepting that people disagreed with it, but rather that people disagreed with it without positing anything to back it up. Like I said, I wasn't making a claim, but rather just wondering. That's why I was defensive; because it is a reasonable question, as the data shows. Sorry, I should have taken the time to look it up, but when I posted the question I didn't have the time.

Also, sorry to call you a dick. That was overboard; you're sarcastic in your responses and that rubs me the wrong way sometimes. I just need to get used to it.

Clarence Beeks

December 1st, 2008 at 4:33 PM ^

And frankly if you would have read my QUESTION a bit closer you would have realized that you actually answered it according to what I was wondering. In about half of those categories that Brian lsits, the comparison is closer between the two teams this year than it was between 2007 Michigan and 2008 Notre Dame.

Clarence Beeks

December 1st, 2008 at 4:39 PM ^

The grammar isn't worth arguing about, but for the record not every question requires a question mark. This is what I said: "Awesome job (as usual) brian, that was a good read. Now, what I would LOVE to know is how this year's Michigan team stacks up against this year's Notre Dame team." The last part was a question and it doesn't require a question mark. I agree with you that it needed to be backed up; but it needed to be backed on both sides: by me and by the people who disagreed with it. Neither of which happened.

Clarence Beeks

December 1st, 2008 at 6:14 PM ^

Ummm... maybe because it provides an interesting measuring stick and another point of comparison?

Also, it's not just in "[my] fantasy world" where results are only a factor; that "fantasy world" is called reality. Head to head is almost always just one factor among many.

Thanks for (again) adding nothing of value to the discussion.

M1EK

December 1st, 2008 at 4:24 PM ^

From a recent common opponent, upgraded from Meh to Secondary Rival:

In 2007, the Domer blog was all "we'd beat you again if we played you in November because Morelli will just get dumber anyways and we're getting better". They got worse. Morelli got dumber. We'd still have won.

In 2008, this side (well, not Brian) was pretty dubious too. Even though we finally lost the rocket-armed retard.

The tears, they are delicious.

Well done, though. I laughed and then felt bad, for a minute.

Clarence Beeks

December 2nd, 2008 at 10:41 AM ^

Well, then football must be "ridiculously gay" because head to head results don't trump any of the other factors in football aside from playoffs and certain (not all) tiebreakers. It's always just a factor; a factor that people give to and circumstances sometimes require extra weight to be given. Frankly, claiming that head to head results should be always be a "trump card" in determining which team is better, especially when looking at a cumulative body of work is pretty weak. All it says is which team was better on a given day. It's not necessarily indicative of which team is better on the whole.

Clarence Beeks

December 2nd, 2008 at 1:01 PM ^

First (and foremost), the discussion to which you responded to isn't so much (at this point anymore) about Michigan versus Notre Dame; it's about his insistence that head-to-head is the be all, end all.

Second, as far as "giv[ing] it up", I'm fine with doing that because my original question has actually been vindicated as being valid. About half of the objective criteria that Brian used to measure 2007 Notre Dame against 2008 Michigan shows that the comparison is actually closer between 2008 Michigan and 2008 Notre Dame.

Most of you who have jumped on me in this thread haven't taken the time to actually understand the question that I asked (or even ask for clarification if it wasn't clear). My question was, records and head-to-head aside, which is the more apt comparison using the objective measures that Brian used. That question must not have been clear (and simple) from my original post. My question was not is 2008 Michigan better than 2008 Notre Dame.

As I said to Chitownblue, I don't have any problem with people disagreeing with my question (afterall, isn't that why you ask questions?), but no one that has disagreed with my question (aside from Chitownblue) has presented one shred of evidence other than "head-to-head, blah, blah, blah".

caup

December 2nd, 2008 at 1:23 PM ^

I will agree to disagree with anyone who says that the result of an indisputable final score doesn't TRUMP any other factor. If you beat us on the field, you were the better team that year. PERIOD. And I would prefer that everyone accept clear-cut defeats on the field with that same level of honor and respect.
Telling me that the current BCS system doesn't work like that DOES NOT MAKE IT RIGHT.

We will agree to disagree. I'm done here.

Clarence Beeks

December 2nd, 2008 at 1:37 PM ^

That's just piss poor logic, and you'll be agreeing to disagree with a hell of a lot of people. It's a factor, plain and simple. Is it a factor of equal weight? Obviously the answer is no.

I'm a little sick you continuing to say that I don't honor and respect the result on the field. It was one of the first things I said. You clearly CONTINUE to misunderstand the question that I asked. Nice job.

And for the record, I never mentioned the BCS.