Preview 2017: Heuristics and Stupid Prediction

Submitted by Brian on September 1st, 2017 at 2:54 PM

Previously: Podcast 9.0A. Podcast 9.0B. Podcast 9.0C. The Story. Quarterback. Running Back. Wide Receiver. Tight End And Friends. Offensive Line. Defensive End. Defensive Tackle. Linebacker. Cornerback. Safety. Special Teams. 5Q5A Offense. 5Q5A Defense.


Turnover Margin


The theory of turnover margin: it is pretty random. Teams that find themselves at one end or the other at the end of the year are 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)
2010 -0.77(109th) 12 7 1.38(98th) 15 14 0.85(10th)
2011 +0.54 (25th) 9 20 2.31 (29th) 16 6 1.38 (33rd)
2012 -0.69 (99th) 7 11 1.69 (69th) 19 8 1.38 (28th)
2013 +0.38(33rd) 17 9 1.9 (64th) 13 8 2.77 (109th)
2014 -1.33 (124th) 5 5 2.4 (49th) 18 8 2.2 (63rd)
2015 -0.31 (92nd) 10 2 2.5 (32nd) 10 6 1.4 (28th)
2016 +0.54 (24th) 13 6 3.54(5th) 7 5 1.69 (39th)

Michigan had an uptick from their incredibly bad fumble luck from a year ago but were still shorted their fair share of turnovers on defense. Despite having one of the best secondaries and most chaos-inducing defenses in the country a year ago they were only 67th in turnovers acquired.

They were probably a bit lucky on the other end, with just 12 giveaways. (Three of them had to happen at the worst possible time, naturally.) That was fifth nationally.

There does seem to be a Harbaugh effect with the interceptions, which have been at blog-era lows the last two years. With a returning starter those should remain low. De'Veon Smith and mostly good pass protection are the main drivers for the low fumble loss rate. One of those is definitely gone and the other may or may not be.

You'd expect both turnovers caused and lost to tick upwards this year; Michigan should be solidly positive again. "Expect" is a dangerous term when dealing with something so high-variance, of course.

Position Switches

Jibreel Black Ohio State v Michigan 8THB4vo8SwAl[1]

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.

The dossier of position switches:

Mason Cole to left tackle. Mandatory after the Newsome injury, and while he's going to be fine he's not an ideal left tackle. Concern: moderate.

Jon Runyan to right tackle. Runyan was never considered a tackle until this spring, and he almost won the job. Despite this being a minor shift, not offense to defense, this one is a bit alarming. Concern: moderate.

Metellus and Hudson flip viper/SS. As discussed in the 5Q5A post, these are close to interchangeable. Both guys are taking snaps at the other spot even now, because Michigan likes to flip 'em on motion. Concern: zero.

Ben Mason to fullback. Ordained from the time of his commitment and necessary for next year. Concern: zero.

James Hudson to OT. If anything this is encouraging about Michigan DT depth. Concern: zero.

Nate Johnson to CB. Probably more about Johnson getting buried at WR and Washington's departure than anything else, but the flip does speak to Michigan's scary CB depth. Concern: slight.

An Embarrassing Prediction, No Doubt

Worst Case Barring Extreme Injury Scenarios

This is another year where Michigan has a lot of games they should win. I can't find it now but I saw that one sportsbook had season lines up and only four games were less than two touchdown spreads. 8-4.

Best Case

Michigan can enter the OSU game undefeated if they win those 14-point spread games, beat a Florida team that may arrive in Dallas with only six eligible players, and win at Penn State and Wisconsin, teams that exploded into dust with one glance at a Don Brown defense. And yeah they have a shot at OSU at home. 12-0.

Final Verdict

Not a lot of drama here. They've got four games with relatively tight spreads and they're likely to split those games.

9/2 Florida (N) Lean to win
9/9 Cincinnati Must win
9/16 Air Force Must win
9/24 @ Purdue Must win
10/1 MSU Must win
10/8 @ Indiana Must win
10/22 @ PSU Tossup
10/29 Rutgers Must win
11/5 Minnesota Must win
11/12 @Maryland Must win
11/19 @ Wisconsin Tossup
11/26 Ohio State Lean to loss

Northwestern, Iowa, Nebraska, Illinois

I do think Michigan should expect to beat Florida, PSU, and Wisconsin, but by "expect to beat" I mean "there is a 60-65% chance Michigan wins against team X". They should expect to lose to OSU, but in a 40-60 kind of way. 10-2 is right down the middle, then, as there's always a chance that football does football things to you and Michigan is suddenly faced with a feisty Piggy or something.



September 1st, 2017 at 3:01 PM ^

Ohio State's secondary seems exploitable by the larger targets after watching them last night. Black, DPJ, and the TEs could feast. Barrett will always have limited upside passing the ball. After how close we were last year and now getting them at home, I'd call it a tossup.


If we beat OSU at the end and only lose one other game, this could still be a playoff year.


September 1st, 2017 at 3:21 PM ^

for some reason i thought the bye occurred a week earlier.  actually pretty great timing on this years bye week...its at the halfway point, breaks up those 2 away games, offers extra time prior to psu game, etc


September 1st, 2017 at 3:22 PM ^

Meta question.. does Brian usually do a Preview post for the first game of the season after all of these other preview posts? It doesn't seem like there was one last season, but that might have just been because Hawaii. After pumping out preview articles all week I'm sure he's absolutely exhausted, but those are some of my favorite analysis posts up there with UFR so I'm just curious.

Thanks Brian! GO BLUE.


September 1st, 2017 at 3:39 PM ^

better than 8-4. This is one of the harder seasons to forecast. We have talent and speed, but short on experience. I expect us to be very good by the end of the year, but surviving some early test could be a challenge, starting with Florida.


September 1st, 2017 at 3:43 PM ^

Losing to Ohio state again will cause me to stop being such a Michigan fanatic. They have beaten our ass the last 15 years, its old, and I'm sick of it.

Ty Butterfield

September 1st, 2017 at 4:11 PM ^

Said 9-3 regular season last year, looks like 8-4 this year. I am curious to see if Harbaugh can deliver. Satellite camps and trips to Rome are great but it is time for Michigan to start winning big games.