(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.
"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.
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:
|SOS||#21||#24||Push pending bowl results|
|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
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:
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.
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.
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.
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.
Utterly Humiliating Close Loss Involving Field Goals And The Throwing Of Remotes And Such
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
|VERSUS||Notre Dame||Michigan State|
|VERSUS||Michigan State||Penn State|
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
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.
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.
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.
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
Now, this is subjective and all that, but Yakety Sax II is far more yakety-sax-y to this correspondent.
Congratulations, Michigan, you are the champion. Of not being the worst power team of the decade. Barely.