Mailbag: Schedule Motivation, Money Edge, 3-4 vs 4-3 Again Comment Count

Brian July 2nd, 2012 at 12:45 PM


a place Michigan won't be going

Scheduling motivation.

Do you think the recent schedule announcements that have us playing more quality non conference opponents are in anticipation of the selection committee favoring teams with a quality strength of schedule?


To me it seems more like an economic thing than an attempt to gain a competitive advantage. One of the benefits of being squeezed hard—or at least having a subsection of the fanbase that is now dumping millions of dollars into club seats and suites—is those fans are now expecting more for their money. As the price you're asked to pay for tickets approaches its value to you, improvements in the product matter. Eight years ago it didn't matter who Michigan scheduled as long as it was a home game. That's no longer the case, or at least it's close enough that the AD doesn't want to take chances.

Combine that with rising rates for tomato cans and the importance of television and college football's economics are moving back towards having more real games.

That said, I do think a schedule like the 2015 slate is a good one if you're good enough to be in the playoff discussion. If that's the case you should be beating the two Pac-12 teams you've signed up, and that may give you the edge over a team from another conference that played East Nowhere. Brandon is due credit for the way he's set up the next few years of nonconference games. Hopefully he secures a home and home worth interrupting the Notre Dame series for in the near future.

Money gap == performance?


I’ve seen several of your entries over the months talk about the growing financial disparity between the B1G and the rest of the BCS conferences.  By all accounts the BTN has been a success and helped put the B1G on very sound financial footing, and has kept the other BCS conferences scrambling to find a way to match revenue (realignment, renegotiated TV contracts, etc.)

I don’t have any numbers, but I’m guessing that the B1G is about to enter a brief period where their revenues will outshine everyone in the BCS conferences and that gap will grow.  Do you think this financial advantage will ever lead to a competitive advantage in football?  Could more revenues, funneled down to the league members, create some national championships?

FWIW, I spoke with my brother (U-M grad and fan) about this and his opinion is that this might show up more in the middle and bottom of the league than at the top.  Basically he says that seedy coaches, even seedier alumni boosters, regional talent bases and an obsessive focus on football can trump the money advantage.

What’s your take?


If we're talking about the will to power here, don't you think we would have already seen some of that impact? Minnesota and Illinois aren't reaching deep into their pockets to hire a Mahlzahn or similar, they're making the same hires they always have when they're not hiring patently unqualified nutcases: guys who've done well in the MAC. Northwestern's married to Fitzgerald for a long time, Iowa's going with Ferentz, Bill O'Brien was not exactly a power move by Penn State (though he is recruiting well out of the gate in trying circumstances)… the easiest and most legal way to flex your dollars is by hiring big time coaches, and the middle and bottom of the Big Ten aren't doing that.

It's actually at the top where we're seeing that money spent in buckets. Michigan hired a did-well-at-lower-level type coach but paid him handsomely, and now they're giving both coordinators SEC-type money. Ohio State paid Urban Meyer a ton of money to rescue them from tatgate. The only middle-of-the-road program that is using money to its benefit is Michigan State, which is managing to hold onto its DC for another year or two by paying him mad money. And even the Spartans have seen big chunks of their coaching staff leave—it's one reason MSU hasn't been able to get a high profile instate guy without huge grade question marks since Hoke arrived.

Part of this is just the attractiveness of the job. Is Sexy Coach X confident he can make waves at Minnesota? Probably not. He's worried that his front teeth will start growing… and that he'll end up like Glen Mason in the best case scenario. There's only so much dollars can buy you when the alternative is almost as many dollars and a better shot at long term-dollars (and success).

I don't think the Big Ten's lead in money is going to make for a noticeable competitive advantage. The margins aren't that high. The SEC dumped $18.3 million on its member schools last year, the Big Ten $22.6. That gap narrows once third-tier rights—which Big Ten schools have signed over to the BTN and SEC schools do get some money out of—are considered, and narrows even further when you spread that bounty over two dozen sports that are all clamoring for something. The money advantage is washed away by having more local talent and more dudes willing to ply that local talent with other local talent.

My long term Big Ten dominance hope: global warming.

But seriously folks, the Big Ten is going to be better in the future. Penn State no longer has the Paterno millstone around their neck, OSU isn't going anywhere, and Michigan will in short order be This Is Michigan again. A large part of the conference's reduced standing in recent years has been because the big powers weren't pulling their weight, and it looks like that's coming to a close. Add in Nebraska and more equal footing is coming. Perfectly equal? Probably not.

Yes, I'm going to keep answering this until people stop asking me about it.

I was wondering if you could explain the advantages to using the 4-3 over the 3-4 this year. Although I understand the theory behind the different systems, it seems like Michigan's depth and more proven talent is at linebacker. Instead of having two unproven guys up the middle in Black/Washington and Campbell/Ash/Pipkins, why not line up with the best space-filler of the DT's, and then have Morgan, Demens, Bolden/Hawthorne/Gordon (the best of the three), and Ryan all lining up at LB. This would give us an option with fewer question marks and would allow Mattison to have some more fun with his blitz packages, which can generally be far more varied in 3-4 systems than in 4-3.


There are three main reasons Michigan's going with the 4-3 under this year.

ONE: IT IS GREG MATTISON'S DEAL, MAN. When I checked out Mattison's presentation at a Glazier Clinic earlier this year, he briefly paused at one point and said something along the lines of "if you think you can defend with three linemen, God bless you, but at Michigan we're using four. We'll be here for hours if you want to debate with me." Mattison's a 4-3 guy, especially on the college level. Asking him to run a 3-4 is not playing to his strengths. See: GERG 3-3-5.

TWO: IT IS THE SAME THING AS LAST YEAR. The last time Michigan went into a season with the same defensive coordinator running the same defense he ran the year before was 2007. That was forever ago, and we have felt the pain since. With most of the defense returning it makes sense to tell them to do the same things they were doing last year. Remember how much better Jake Ryan got at not screwing up as the year progressed? You're tossing some of that away by changing defenses.

THREE: IT DOESN'T ACTUALLY SOLVE ANY PERSONNEL PROBLEMS. The most obvious difference between the two systems is in what they ask the linemen to do. Michigan's one-gap 4-3 under generally asks defensive linemen to pick one spot between two linemen and attack it. Traditional 3-4s want all three defensive linemen to control the blocker opposite them and be able to come off on either side of the guy when the ballcarrier gets to them.

If that latter task sounds like it requires a big strong guy, yeah. The best example is Alabama's Jesse Williams, the Australian swamp beast who is moving to nose this year. This guy played DE for Alabama:


That is the kind of guy who occupies all three line slots in a 3-4.

Craig Roh is not a swamp beast. Nor is Jibreel Black. In a 3-4, those guys are either moving to outside linebacker or wandering Europe like a stateless refugee in WWII. They don't really have a role. Meanwhile, the WDEs all get drafted at OLB, leaving you with three spots to fill with tanks instead of one and a half.

The 3-4 is kind of an all or nothing setup, with 300+ pound guys who can squat dump trucks on the DL, Lamarr Woodley sorts at OLB, and traditional ILBs. In contrast the 4-3 under has a smooth size gradation from nose to three-tech to SDE to WDE to SLB to MLB to WLB. In a year when Michigan's not even sure if they've got one nose tackle, a 3-4 essentially asks them to have three.



July 2nd, 2012 at 1:04 PM ^

I agree wholheartedly on the 3-4 vs. 4-3 argument.  Michigan has the horses to run a 3-4 if Campbell, Washington, and Ash were all good and could play every snap of every game.

Otherwise, a 4-3 it is.

I'm surprised this is still a debate.

Mr. Yost

July 2nd, 2012 at 1:46 PM ^

You'd need those 3 as your starters and then you'd need Chris Bryant and Ondre Pipkins to rotate in there as well. 300+ pounders don't play every snap. Wilkins and Black would likely be reserves at DE.

It's this EA Sports NCAA mentality where people think you can just run a 3-4 with Black, Roh and Campbell as your front.

Lastly, we finally have a little depth at LB...why do we now want to switch things up? Finally we have a Hawthrorne, Bolden and Gordon that can come in and give us "1st team minutes" (basketball reference). People forget that 2 years ago we were talking about starting Mark Moundros at MLB.

Painter Smurf

July 2nd, 2012 at 4:11 PM ^

With these oversize DL, I believe the bust rate is disproportionately high.  UM has had a bunch of busts in recent years.  Saban has the luxury of recruiting these kids after they prove themselves at the JuCo level (not to mention stockpiling through oversigning).  And for whatever reason, a lot of successful interior DL come from the JuCo ranks.  There's just a larger pool of 4-3 sized DL available in high school recruiting, so Mattison's strategy makes sense to me from that perspective.


July 2nd, 2012 at 2:36 PM ^

Mattison took our worst defense ever and used basically the same players plus a few freshman to field the sixth best unit in the country.  Yet people challenge his statements that the 4-3 Under is the way to go.  Somedays you just have to wonder about people.  


Marley Nowell

July 2nd, 2012 at 1:08 PM ^

Regardless of the motivations I am glad to see that the schedule will include as many legitimate opponents as possible.  I am still wary that this will continue however, looking at the out of conference schedules that the "powerhouse" SEC teams play.


July 2nd, 2012 at 1:27 PM ^

Doesn't it seem like the new PAC-12 is using its bucketfulls of money to actually make decent hiring moves?

I mean, there are extenuating circumstances to the Leach/RichRod/Grantham/mora hires, but you've got to be kidding yourself if you think Mike Leach wouldn't have coached Minnesota.  Minnesota: we're not as bad as Washington State!  Damn you, MInnesota for depriving us of the eventual Pirate-Gopher photoshops.


July 2nd, 2012 at 1:56 PM ^

I would have thought that the success from last season would have put an end to the fairly pointless handwringing (given that both are perfectly good systems) over the 4-3 vs. the 3-4 by people on the internet.


July 2nd, 2012 at 2:09 PM ^

the 4-3 is the way to go I'm gonna believe him, but I'm fairly sure he could choose either side of the debate and beat anyone who posts on this board.  That said, given the way last year's defensive lineman described the technique training differences between the current and previous eras, Mattison may have realized similar success last year with a 3-4 by virtue of improved player skills alone.


July 2nd, 2012 at 2:09 PM ^

Holy crap is Jesse Williams a monster!  His sweat band on his right arm looks like a tourniquet.  Maybe he'll lose feeling in his hands and not be able to tackle this September.


July 2nd, 2012 at 2:15 PM ^

"My long term Big Ten dominance hope: global warming."  Maybe Al Gore can become our next conference commissioner.

In 100 years, all the "speed" athletes will be in the UP.  The Copper Country will be the new South Florida, Marquette will have it's famous North Beach district and Chassell, MI will be the new Pahokee.  I can see it now:  The Mackinac Bridge - gateway to 5* talent.


July 2nd, 2012 at 3:46 PM ^

Although Chassell may be too small to be the new Pahokee.  Let's think Munising....and I'm thinking Escanaba could produce at least 2 middling 4 star O-lineman/year.  The key is to start the pipeline early.  We want this to be more Cass Tech and less FH Harrison (save 2012 of course).

Does Northern Michigan U become the new Central Fla?  Does Michigan Tech become Va. Tech?  Possibilities are startling.


July 2nd, 2012 at 2:23 PM ^

It's only taken me 17 tries to grasp that whole 3-4/4-3 personnel thing.
Thanks for describing it in a cave painting-ly simple fashion for me.


July 2nd, 2012 at 5:37 PM ^

I do remember in the early 1980s when Moeller and McCartney were DCs that Michigan frequently showed 3 man fronts on defense, even on rushing downs.  Watch some of the Michigan games from the 1980 or 1981 seasons.  Michigan had DEs that stood off line more like OLBs.

I'm not a proponent, but it's not like 3 man defensive fronts is "unMichigan" or anything.  It no doubt has it's application and use.

Now watch Casteel somehow miraculously blow up the PAC-12 with it.



Ron Utah

July 2nd, 2012 at 5:50 PM ^

We hired one of the top NFL (and college) DC's, install a whole new defensive system, and went from a bottom-ten defense to a top-ten defense...and people still question the methodology?

This is not a video game.  You can't just switch systems and get the same performance out of your players.  You don't just switch to using four LB's because you have lots of talent there. NEWS FLASH: we already poached the LB talent by moving Clark and Beyer to DE.  

Mattison is already working to get the best talent on the field, but, as Brian points out, the personnel that are required for a 3-4 don't exist on our roster, and are hard to come by for anyone.


July 2nd, 2012 at 7:18 PM ^

Another reason the 3-4 is tough to run in college is that, unlike the NFL, you don't get to pick your players, they pick you in college.  That being said, a prototypical NT in a 3-4 is a very specific type of player and those type guys are not very abundant coming out of HS.  It is much more feasible to pick up a prototypical 3 technique DT and develop him based on his body type and HS film than a NT.  Unless you oversign players and continually cut the guys who don't pan out as a NT, like Alabama does, it is very difficult to man that position adequately and consistently.  There is no more important position in a 30 front (3 DL) than the NT who is responsible for the A gaps.  The term used in coaching defense in a 30 front is the "Power Triangle", which is your NT, Two ILBs, and your safeties.  If you're weak in the power triangle, the defense will not be affective no matter who is flanking them.

Also, the other positions in a 3-4 take specialized athletes and to continually find and develop guys for that system would be taxing on a staff.  Not that it can't happen, but you have to have the right mix of players on your two deep to be successful.  Again, if your talent pool exceeds the 85 schollies and you cut players to keep the cream of the crop, it is less of an issue.

Two years ago, UGA went to a 3-4 from a 4-3 base and they got destroyed because they had no NT to play the two gaps over the center.  Proof of this was evident when they played South Carolina and Steve Spurrier ran the ball 50 times in that game because they couldn't stop the run.  When you make Spurrier run the ball, you're doing something very very wrong.

The 4-3 Under is actually pretty versatile with regards to the blitz because of the overhang defenders, so the blitz looks you can get out of it are also pretty diverse.  I don't think blitz packages are an issue with our defense.  Our blitz failures came when guys couldn't get home on the blitz because they couldn't defeat blockers consistently.  You take a huge risk bringing a LB or DB on a blitz when they can't get home on the blitz because you're conceding numbers in the secondary.


July 2nd, 2012 at 7:38 PM ^

That's sort of true, but if you're running a scheme that needs to feature certain types of players it should give you a recruiting advantage with those particular types of players.

I find these arguments over scheme as if there were some way to determine which is objectively best in all circumstances to be kind of silly. You can make just about anything reasonable work if you commit to it, understand it, recruit to it. The best system is the one that your DC and the position coaches he's hired believe in.

(Any doubts I had left on that score disappeared when Grinnell basketball started winning. You can win there, with THAT? You probably couldn't everywhere but the scheme doesn't exactly fit my "reasonable" limitation either.)


July 5th, 2012 at 6:10 PM ^

So to say you recruit to a system is forgetting that there is not an abundance of guys in HS who are projected to play a true NT position in a 2 gap scheme; there just is not that many guys projecting to NT in HS, if you bust on one you've got issues. 

To me, it's riskier to run a system that is athlete specific in so many areas when you have the unknown variable of the talent you can acquire consistently.  Not that 40 front defenders are less talented, but there are more guys who can play a 3 technique and out, then there is that can play a true NT.  Mike Marting played NT but in a one gap scheme; very very different.


July 2nd, 2012 at 10:08 PM ^

But seriously folks, the Big Ten is going to be better in the future. Penn State no longer has the Paterno millstone around their neck,

Not sure about this one. They may be dealing with fallout for some time to come.


July 3rd, 2012 at 7:14 AM ^ which DAB discusses schedule motivation. Short answer: get head start on B1G/Pac-12 alliance, increase strength of schedule (but don't go crazy since no one knows the degree to which the committee will emphasize SoS). Also, he favors tiered scheduling within the alliance, he'll wait to fill out year slots until he has a better idea of how SoS is treated.…


July 3rd, 2012 at 12:03 PM ^

" And even the Spartans have seen big chunks of their coaching staff leave—it's one reason MSU hasn't been able to get a high profile instate guy without huge grade question marks since Hoke arrived."


Kind of an odd and essentially inaccurate comment.