Preview 2010: Heuristics and Stupid Prediction

Submitted by Brian on September 3rd, 2010 at 3:42 PM

Previously: The story, the secondary, the linebackers, the defensive line, the quarterbacksthe running backs, the receivers, the offensive line, special teams, the conference, offensive questions answered(?), defensive questions answered(?).


Turnover Margin

The theory of turnover margin: it is nearly random. Teams that find themselves at one end or the other at the end of the year are highly likely to rebound towards the average. So teams towards the top will tend to be overrated and vice versa. Nonrandom factors to evaluate: quarterback experience, quarterback pressure applied and received, and odd running backs like Mike Hart who just don't fumble.

Year Margin Int + Fumb + Sacks + Int - Fumb - Sacks -
2007 0.15 (41st) 14 15 2.46(33rd) 14 13 2.17 (67th)
2008 -.83 (104th) 9 11 2.42(33rd) 12 18 1.83 (57th)
2009 -1.00 (115th) 11 5 1.83(68th) 15 13 2.33 (83rd)

So. Last year I suggested this would head towards average; it totally did not. It somehow conspired to get worse. One major reason for this is the blindingly obvious one: freshman quarterbacks. They accounted for the uptick in interceptions and a large number of Michigan's fumbles. With another year of experience it's reasonable to suggest Michigan's turnovers lost will decline from the 28 given away last year, tied with a few other teams (including Georgia) for 99th nationally. This blog's theory about QB experience and pressure should work in Michigan's favor this year. Finally.

There should be good news on defense, too. Michigan's five fumbles recovered is a very low number, tied for fifth worst nationally with LSU and Tulane (your national "leader" in not getting fumbles: Georgia), and fumbles are so much more fluky than interceptions that Michigan can expect a +5/6 improvement in that metric just by virtue of not being on the death end of fate. Maybe. If they aren't this year, you know.

So… yeah, one more time: this should get way closer to even than it was last year. More fumbles recovered, marginally less awful defense, sophomore quarterbacks. Just ending the year at zero would be worth a couple wins, and while that's optimistic with still-young quarterbacks and that secondary they should see themselves pull way closer to the center. If they don't it's curtains for Rodriguez.

Position Switch Starters

Theory of position switches: if you are starting or considering starting a guy who was playing somewhere else a year ago, that position is in trouble. There are degrees of this. When Notre Dame moved Travis Thomas, a useful backup at tailback, to linebacker and then declared him a starter, there was no way that could end well. Wisconsin's flip of LB Travis Beckum to tight end was less ominous because Wisconsin had a solid linebacking corps and Beckum hadn't established himself on that side of the ball. Michigan flipping Prescott Burgess from SLB to WLB or PSU moving Dan Connor inside don't register here: we're talking major moves that indicate a serious lack somewhere.

Glaugahgerghasrgh bleaaaaah:

  • Mark Moundros moves from fullback to MLB and will start or is basically as good as the starter.
  • Cam Gordon moves from WR to FS and will start.
  • Martavious Odoms moves from slot to outside WR and will start.
  • Ryan Van Bergen moves from DT to DE and will start. Mitigating factor: last year RVB moved from DE to DT.
  • Mark Huyge moves from RG/RT to LT and will probably start unless Lewan eats him.
  • Craig Roh is something or other that is not quite what he was before.

Offensive moves are basically eh, but the topmost defensive moves are major red flags.

An Embarrassing Prediction, No Doubt

Worst Case

If only they were playing last year's schedule again. If they were, I could say "is the offense going to be better? 100% yes! Is the defense going to be worse? 90% no!" At that point I cold throw out a 6-6 worst case and be confident. Unfortunately, Eastern Michigan is replaced by UConn and things are complicated. They won't go 0-fer on the teams outside the bottom of the schedule, but a crappy defense and a lot of shootouts that go the wrong way could see them hit 5-7 again, and then the bricks.

Best Case

I don't see much upside in the D, but it is possible that teams without good quarterbacks won't be able to take advantage of it, leaving the offense to Leap its way past the middling bits of the schedule. It's fairly easy to see how they win against UConn, Penn State, maybe Notre Dame, and maybe Purdue on this basis; throw in a home split against MSU and Iowa and 9-3 is hypothetically in reach. Hypothetically.

Final Verdict

The offense will undergo Leap II: This Time It's Obvious, becoming legitimately scary to opponents across the league. They will find at least two tailbacks to go with the Denard experience; the line will improve considerably; the turnovers should finally (finally) come down to reasonable levels. This is what Rodriguez has based his career on and if it doesn't happen that career will probably be continuing somewhere else.

Defense? Last year again with less confusion and very long stupid easy touchdowns, shredded by experienced, good quarterbacks (of which there are 4 or 5 on the schedule), considerably better against the run, slightly better overall, still prone to major breakdowns.

9/4 UConn Leans to win
9/11 @ Notre Dame Tossup
9/18 UMass Must win
9/25 Bowling Green Must win
10/2 @ Indiana Must win
10/9 Michigan State Leans to loss
10/16 Iowa Leans to loss
10/30 @ Penn State Leans to loss
11/6 Illinois Must win
11/13 @ Purdue Tossup
11/20 Wisconsin Longshot
11/27 @ Ohio State Longshot

Minnesota, Northwestern

There are the two gimmes in the nonconference and two games against Big Ten teams that should be terrible, as Indiana and Illinois were wracked by graduation losses and weren't good to begin with. The opener against UConn is a game Michigan his maybe 60-70% to win; who knows about Notre Dame and Purdue. From there Michigan will probably get five or six wins. The seventh, or sixth will be picking off one of MSU, Iowa, or Penn State. 7-5 is still the call, but with the secondary attrition 6-6 is more likely than 8-4; before I thought the reverse.



September 3rd, 2010 at 3:54 PM ^

Personal opinion here, but I doubt 6-6 or 7-5 saves RR"s job if that includes a sub .500 record in conference.  4-0 OOC but 3-5 in conference probably means he's gone, as well it should honestly.  same with 3-1 OOC and 3-5 in the Big 10. 

He needs to hit .500 in conference (and one/two of those wins really need to be MSU and/or OSU most likely) to save his job IMO. 

Honestly 4-0 OOC and 3-5 in conference would actually be worse than 2-2 OOC but 4-4 in conference.


September 3rd, 2010 at 4:10 PM ^

Just throwing it out there, but I defy anyone to find me more than say, one coach that's ended up building a consistently great program with a losing conference record in each of his first three seasons in say, the last 50 years.  It doesn't happen.  I hope we're 10-2 or better this year, but if a guy can't even put together a .500 conference record in three seasons, he's never going to be consistently great. 


September 3rd, 2010 at 8:45 PM ^

Frank Beamer went 4-3 in his third season with Virginia Tech in the ACC so no, he doesn't count at all.

Dave Wannstedt went 4-3 in his first season at Pitt.  Not mention the fact that he hasn't built a consistently elite program yet.  He's had one ten win season, aided by a bowl win, didn't win his conference in that year (or at all in 5 years) and just lost his season opener to Utah, so again, no, he doesn't count at all.  Keep trying though.


September 3rd, 2010 at 6:15 PM ^

in the right circumstances. Brandon wants to see that the program's doing things the right way and will get turned back around under Rodriguez, and if he thinks so, even with a poor record this year, he'll keep Rodriguez. My opinion, obviously.


September 3rd, 2010 at 4:54 PM ^

6-6 maybe, but probably not. 5-7 definitely. 7-5, almost assuredly not.

I think Brandon will look at the season and say,

"OK, you went 3-1 OOC, and beat Indiana, Illinois, and MSU, but lost to the top 3 teams, @PSU, and @Purdue. You have been hindered by horrible depth on defense. You have made strides to correct this issue, only to lose 6 possible starting DBs in one year. Our offense is as pontent as it can get, but will benefit very much from consistency and experience next year. You return almost your entire offense, and almost your entire defense while adding some redshirt players and another top recruiting class to the mix.

"Your team has been consistently good academically, you have a young team, and you have been thrown just about every obstacle that can be thrown your way. We have had one of the toughest schedules in the Big Ten the last 2 years, which should be lightened up a bit next year and is backloaded with home games against your two toughest opponents so you can get your wins early and pick off a team or two from the top of the conference. If you can't do it after that, you never will."


September 3rd, 2010 at 4:02 PM ^

....quality wins is more important this year than quantity of wins.

7-5 with wins over ND, State and maybe OSU and/or Iowa and we are talking (of course this scenario has to include a loss over less than quality opponents)

8-4 with major losses (UConn, ND, MSU and Ohio State) and that's not very good

Chicago Blue

September 3rd, 2010 at 4:05 PM ^

I'm not sure I agree. Brandon's not going to can Rodriguez if Michigan finishes the season 8-4, no matter which teams we lose to. That record would be a vast improvement over last year and a positive sign for next year's stacked team (and favorable schedule).


September 3rd, 2010 at 4:06 PM ^

I think Rodriguez should stay barring a total meltdown (which does not look probable in any way whatsoever), but I think our defense prevents us from getting more than 6 or 7 regular season wins.


September 3rd, 2010 at 4:06 PM ^

... I see 8-4; but 7-5 and RichRod stays.

And I'll go out on a limb.  Even with 6-6 RichRod may stay if the offense is way better, if it's running his system well, and the record largely is due to the decimated defense.

Unfortunately, GERG goes in that scenario.

But since I am stoked, will be there tomorrow, and am picking 8-4, all I can really say is:


September 3rd, 2010 at 4:45 PM ^

Given the near-total lack of experience in the secondary, I don't think there's a coordinator in the country who would be expected to put together a good defense this year. Assuming Rodriguez gets another year, I think Robinson will be retained if (a) the run defense improves from last year and (b) the secondary makes some progress over the course of the season.


September 3rd, 2010 at 5:38 PM ^

I like winning records and BCS rankings as much as everyone else.  However, in my fantasy world, RR keeps me and the rest of the Michigan faithful happy for another year if he beats tOSU, MSU, and ND along with "pick 3" others.

My prediction is still an 8-4 season and 9-4 with the bowl win.  Brian's analysis is tough to ignore, but I think the intangibles favor us this year.  The most important of which may be the frequent  sacrifices mgousers offer to the AM_HG.  

I have increasingly become an RR fan.  I like the talent he is bringing to the team, and I like how he has handled himself through a lot of off season adversity.

EDIT: Shit, should have read other comments in the thread below before posting.  Essentially my post is redundant.  No excuses, need to improve my game now that the season is starting.


September 3rd, 2010 at 4:11 PM ^

if made on offense, there is no reason to get rid of RR, maybe GERG though - but I'd give him another year too.

Position switch is bunk, Moundros will be at least OK to good.  It's a heady position which he will adapt well to by mid season.  To me it's all about the play of the corners.  The corners, the corners, the corners.


September 3rd, 2010 at 4:13 PM ^

Why was The Story so dire and why did you tell the NYC crowd you didn't think Rodriguez would make it if you think we'll go 7-5? Is it just me or did you just pull a major about face?


September 3rd, 2010 at 4:48 PM ^

No, not at all. Brian, unlike Brandon, couldn't affect what he was talking about. So I'm not nearly as concerned with what he said as with his reasoning. For me there's no restoration of faith in Brian with these conclusions, instead it raises questions. Like how did Brian get to the idea that the defense would improve marginally from his apocalyptic secondary preview, which started with, "what's the point of anything?" and discussed whether cornerbacks deserved the first ever rating of zero?  Possibly related sidenote: how did Brian postulate today that NFL draft pick Stevie Brown is only one greater than sign better than freshman Carvin Johnson?

Brian, did you have a change of heart in the course of writing this? Or was it more of a decision to cater to readers who were down on the first couple features? When you wrote The Story and said that Michigan (like Morrissey) is, "stuck in a self-loathing rut" and that it's easy right now "to be the world's most cynical man", you weren't about to predict a 7-5 season. There's no way. What happened?


September 3rd, 2010 at 4:14 PM ^

I think this is a hair pessimistic.  This is all speculation, but I think when the MSU/Iowa/PSU trio actually rolls around, those games will look more like tossups (or in the case of MSU, likely wins).  We're going to be very good on the offensive and defensive lines.  That's the real key to the Rodriguez leap.   In the fourth quarter we're going to control the line of scrimmage this year against all but a few teams.   

D.C. Dave

September 3rd, 2010 at 4:49 PM ^

I will admit to a feeling of falling off the cliff when I heard about Troy Woolfolk's injury until I remembered that he is a super athlete, really fast, but not a great football player, at least at DB. And I recalled what Nick Saban once told me at an LSU practice about a highly recruited, super fast guy, who never played, as he raced down the field ahead of everyone else: "He's fast, he's strong, he's a great athlete, but he can't cover anyone and every time he has a chance to make a play, he doesn't. I don't play those guys."

So I'm going with our freshman, just because I've seen our 'experienced' players. My sleeper for the secondary is Cullen Christian, who has the goods to pick things up quickly and play well.

I stand by my 8-4 call, which means we go 3-1 in nonconference (we might drop one in South Bend, though the Irish are also defenseless and their coach seems to hate stopping people even more than ours).

I'm not buying the MSU hype and we correct that little, disturbing trend and anger the most classless coach in the league.

We'll also beat Indiana, Illinois and Purdue, the latter not as tough as some might expect.

And if we start 3-1, we'll need one win out of this group: Iowa, Wisconsin, Penn State (word is Kevin Newsome can't hit the broad side of a barn), Ohio State. I know which one I'd prefer.

los barcos

September 3rd, 2010 at 5:07 PM ^

doesnt scare me that much, for some reason.  i guess because they werent exactly world beaters last year; there luck has to fall back to the stratosphere, doesnt it? besides, we played them close last year in iowa, im considering this game a tossup.

with that being said, purdue might have something with marve and a passing attack, indiana may play with a chip on their shoulder from last year, and msu will probably pass over us all day. throw in wisconsin, osu, and notre dame, and i think we're looking at 5-7 losses and a new coach at the end of the year.


September 3rd, 2010 at 6:11 PM ^

Purdue might have something with Marve, but we might have something with Denard. And, Indiana can play with a chip on their shoulder, but we can't play with a chip on ours?

You do realize that you picked a loss to Indiana, don't you? That would take some serious regression from last year considering that was the game that Molk and Tate both got injured in.

If MSU couldn't pass over us last year, there is a strong chance that they won't do it this year, but if they do, we can pass over them all day too. Advantage has to go to us considering we actually have an offensive line, we can run the ball, and we have home-field advantage this year. How can you consider Iowa a tossup, but not this game?

Enjoy Life

September 3rd, 2010 at 5:33 PM ^

Aaarrggghhh! Large positive or negative turnover margins are NOT random luck (regardless of what Phil Steele, et al say).

The primary reason M had a large negative TOM for two years in a row is because we were a poor performing team. Everything points to the team being at least an average performing team this year. M will have a positve TOM this year because of better performance not just blind random luck.

See this diary for the gory details.

PS Next week I'll post a diary showing the correlation between TOM and winning.

Crime Reporter

September 3rd, 2010 at 6:01 PM ^

I think (hope) we turn the corner this year on the way to a loaded 2011 squad.

Maybe I'm overly optimistic, but I'm sticking with 8-4, and a big win tomorrow. I put the gun away for now.

Enjoy Life

September 3rd, 2010 at 5:46 PM ^

How did this become a thread on when/if to fire RR?

I have not seen the fire RR crew even talk about the 800 pound gorilla in the room --- who would replace him? M did a pretty comprehensive search just 3 years ago and, unless you think Habaugh or Miles will jump to U/M, there are just not very many candidates out there.

Why fire RR when he still has a very young inexperienced team unless you have a replacement in mind?


September 3rd, 2010 at 6:08 PM ^

I am not suggesting that RR will or should be fired. But should we find ourselves in that position, you can always find someone good to come coach Michigan. I mean, there are around 120 FBS football teams, and some of them must have great coaches that would consider Michigan a step up. To that, you could add the great coaches at the lower levels—remember, Jim Tressell’s last stop before Ohio State was Youngstown State.

Not a Blue Fan

September 3rd, 2010 at 6:02 PM ^


9/4 UConn Leans to win
9/11 @ Notre Dame Tossup
9/18 UMass Must win
9/25 Bowling Green Must win
10/2 @ Indiana Must win
10/9 Michigan State Leans to loss
10/16 Iowa Leans to loss
10/30 @ Penn State Leans to loss
11/6 Illinois Must win
11/13 @ Purdue Tossup
11/20 Wisconsin Longshot
11/27 @ Ohio State Longshot

Minnesota, Northwestern


Using Brian's judgments, I assigned 0.25 wins for "leans to loss", 0.5 wins for "tossup", 0.75 wins for "leans to win", 1.0 wins for "must win", and 0.0 wins for "longshot". By my arithmetic, this gives 6.5 wins estimated. That sounds about right...6-7 wins seems very plausible, unless the defense turns out to be a lot better than most expect.


September 3rd, 2010 at 6:03 PM ^

I get there slightly differently, but still arrive at 7–5 as the base case.

I would move Michigan State to the “Leans to Win” category, but that still leaves the Wolverines with only six games that they either must or should win. If they split the toss-ups, that gets them to 7–5.

The main question is whether Michigan can beat the guys they should beat. That has been the team’s downfall the last two years.


September 3rd, 2010 at 6:47 PM ^

Still think MSU is a tossup, but hard to argue beyond that.  They are 4-1 heading into MSU (loss to either UConn or ND), then probably a 1-2 split with the next three.  7-5 is the final call, but 8-4 if PSU is as bad as they look.


September 3rd, 2010 at 7:35 PM ^

There are five games at the beginning season during which someone in the secondary can figure out what the hell is supposed to happen and do it. During three of those games, there should be a substantial cushion ... ideally they would be the first three, but I guess the flip side of that is that if one or more of the DBs hits the ground running, Michigan could well be 5-0 with a confident yet inexperienced secondary by the time the I-don't-know portion of the schedule rolls around.

Iowa's the most likely win; I'm with the people who believe that Iowa shook down the Luck Fairy last year and got an extra year's worth out of her. Even Penn State could be vulnerable if their QB looks worse than Michigan's defensive backs. Little brother, ugh. Bad year to have questions about DBs.

Purdue is basically in the same position as Michigan, but with much less pressure to improve and arguably signficantly less talent with which to do it, particularly with the loss of Bolden ... if the DBs are prepared for Marve (or whoever is the starter at that point), that could tip the game to Michigan. (Of course if the offense is running at full speed by then, I doubt Purdue's defense will be able to slow it down, rendering UM's defensive issues irrelevant.)

7-5 plus a happy bowl appearance.


September 3rd, 2010 at 7:49 PM ^

Any who doesn't think  we don't spank little brother is season is a moron. We are going to run all over that shitty offensive line for MSU. They suck. They are epitome of suckage. They should be a mac school. woopity doo they beat the two worst teams in michigan history. even a mentally challenged blind squirrel finds a nut. We are going to bend them over and ravage them again and again and again. 


MSU = SUCK fuck them


September 3rd, 2010 at 7:53 PM ^

Good analysis but the MSU game leans to win for me, as does the Iowa and PSU games go.  PSU starts a true freshmen.  Iowa lost a favorable amount of talent and Michigan State will go back to being little brother at some point.  I'm sticking with 8-4 with a worst case at 6-6 and a best case of 9-3.  Firing RR at the end of the year (unless it's another bismal campaign) is assinine.  There's not another coach in the country that could have done any better trying to implement his offense with what he's had on both sides of the ball since he's been here.  Thankfully the wait is over and tomorrow will give us a good indication of where we are and where we are headed.