4-0 Michigan

Submitted by oriental andrew on September 22nd, 2009 at 8:46 PM
4-0.  4 wins, no losses to start a season.  Doesn't seem like it'd be that difficult for one of the upper-echelon teams, right?  Well, looking back at the past 20 seasons (1989-2008) shows a different story.  The only seasons in which Michigan started 4-0 are listed below.  1997 and 2006 are obvious.

Season, Winning streak, Final record
1995, 5-0, 9-4 (4-4 the rest of the way, Carr's first season, including the Pigskin Classic win over UVA)
1996, 4-0, 8-4 (another bowl game loss)
1997, 12-0, 12-0 (obvs)
1999, 5-0, 10-2 (capped by the Orange Bowl win over 'Bama)
2006, 11-0, 11-2 (obvs)

So in the past 20 seasons, Michigan has started 4-0 only 5 times.  Compare that to some of our rivals.

OSU - 1991, 1993, 1995, 1996, 1997, 1998, 2000, 2002, 2003, 2006, 2007.  That's 11/20 seasons, more than twice what Michigan accomplished.

PSU - 1992, 1993, 1994, 1996, 1997, 1999, 2005, 2008.  For all the crap we give them about them regressing after joining the Big Ten (starting 1993), they still have 8 seasons starting 4-0.  

MSU - 1997, 1999, 2005, 2007.  Ok, even MSU has almost as many 4-0 starts as Michigan does over the past 20 seasons.  Additional commentary a couple paragraphs down.

ND - 1989, 1993, 2002.  The last 4-0 start (and they actually started 8-0) was by Ty freaking Willingham.  Chuckie's best start?  2-0.  Just sayin'. 

So a couple of observations.  First is that Michigan has an opportunity to do Saturday what has only been done ONCE in the past 10 seasons by starting 4-0.  Second is that a 4-0 start doesn't necessarily mean squat, as evidenced by Michigan's 1995 and 1996 seasons and, most glaringly, MSU's 2007 season in which they started 4-0 and went 3-6 the rest of the way (a deliciously yummy ouch!) to finish 7-6.  

So, while a 4-0 start would be nice, it's a long season and there are 8 regular season games (and hopefully a bowl game) left to play.  For now, though, I'm more than satisfied with the way this campaign has started.  It's been a while since I was excited about football a month into the season.



Crime Reporter

September 22nd, 2009 at 8:54 PM ^

Good analysis with the numbers and all, but lets wait until about 3:30 p.m. Saturday to discuss this 4-0 talk. Nothing is a given, and the moment you forget that, someone will take it away.


September 22nd, 2009 at 8:54 PM ^

Let's see our opponents in those years. While ND isn't a bad opponent, I'd be interested to see our schedule strength over those seasons as well. How many of those 37 total opponents were bowl teams?

Alternately, how does our non-conference slate match up in the years we don't start 4-0? ND probably contributed to at least 60% of the seasons we didn't start out so well. I'd be interested to see the schedule comparisons though.

Interesting post though.

oriental andrew

September 23rd, 2009 at 9:55 AM ^

Year-by-year rundown:

1989: started 0-1, lost first game to ND at home, lost last game to USC in the Rose; won first road game @ UCLA
1990: started 0-1, lost first game to ND at South Bend
1991: started 2-1, lost 3rd game to FSU at home; won opener at BC
1992: started 8-0-1, tied first game with ND in South Bend; no losses on the season (finished 9-0-3)
1993: started 1-1, lost to ND at home; lost first roadie to MSU
1994: started 2-1, lost 3rd game to Colorado (yes, that game); won first roadie at ND
1995: Started 5-0, first loss to Northwestern at home; won first roading in Champaign
1996: Started 4-0, first loss to Northwestern in Evanston
1997: started 12-0, finished 12-0
1998: started 0-2, lost opener in South Bend, then ‘Cuse at home
1999: started 5-0, first loss to MSU in E Lansing; won first roadie at Syracuse
2000: started 2-1, lost to UCLA in LA
2001: started 1-1, lost to Washington in Seattle
2002: started 2-1, lost to ND in South Bend
2003: started 3-1, lost to Oregon in Eugene
2004: started 1-1, lost to ND in South Bend
2005: started 1-1, lost to ND at home; lost first roadie in Madison
2006: started 11-0, lost to OSU in Columbus; won first road game to ND
2007: the horror; won first road game to Northwestern
2008: lost first game to Utah at home; lost first roadie to ND

So Michigan has lost its first game at home 8 times, on the road 11 times. Of the 8 home losses, 3 were to ND; only 2 were conference losses; and the rest were other OOC opponents (including the horror). Of the 11 road losses, 5 were to ND; 3 were conference losses; and the other 3 were on the west coast. Not sure what all this tells us, if anything, but it is another set of data points.

As for first road games, Michigan is 3-8 in road openers since the national championship, but (somehow) 2-1 the last 3 seasons. So Michigan has certainly struggled in road openers, although the caliber of opponent has been pretty solid, for the most part. But still, many of those were games we should have won. Hopefully, RR can change the trend. And no, I’m not going to do the research on our opponents record in road openers; or our SOS; or our home vs road records; etc. I have a job, you know... =)


September 22nd, 2009 at 9:02 PM ^

those early season sputters after all. Thanks for pulling the data.

I would like to see PSU and Ohio State's OOC schedules during that span. Granted, the Bucks have pulled together some good games recently OOC (USC, Texas, etc). I just don't remember who they played early in the 90s. Penn State I suspect feasted on the Temples of the world.

With respect to Dame, they typically play Michigan and MSU early in the season, which guarantees at least one of those teams will have an early loss (or back in the day, a tie).


September 22nd, 2009 at 9:03 PM ^

I mentioned this the other day to someone who was complaining that our OOC schedules going forward aren't tough enough. From 1987-1994 - an eight-year stretch - we never made it through OOC play with a perfect record. And it's not like we weren't good (we won five Big Ten titles over that stretch). It's just tough to play multiple top 25 teams at the beginning of the season, which we were routinely doing. If it wasn't ND that got us, it was Miami, Florida State or Colorado (back when they were good). Our scheduling was nuts.

PSU and OSU, on the whole, haven't played as difficult OOC schedules over that time. But you know what? No one cares. The record is what counts.


September 22nd, 2009 at 9:08 PM ^

Michigan and ND have played a very even and competitive series over the past 20 years, and they cancel each other out of this every other year due to it being in game 2.


September 22nd, 2009 at 9:21 PM ^

I already made the same observation while straddling the thrown in the powder room ,in my elderly house in Atlanta, as our city nickname turned from the "ATL" to the "H2o" as the rain fell. Here is a more telling trend....victories over ND at home (since the series renewed in 1978):
1) 1980, Michigan 25 ND 7...Michigan finishes 9-3...3rd place with a bowl win
2) 1985, Michigan 20 ND 12...Michigan finishes 10-1-1..2nd place with a bowl victory
3) 1991, Michigan 24 ND 14....Michigan finishes 10-2...1st place..with a trip to pasadena
4) 1997, Michigan 21 ND 14...Michigan...well you know the end...
5) 1999, Michigan 26 ND 22...Michigan goes 10-2...2nd place..bowl victory
6) 2003 Michigan 39 ND 0...Michigan goes 10-3...1st place
7) 2007 Michigan 38 Nd 0....Michigan finishes 9-4...2nd place with a nice bowl win

So here are Michigan's numbers when they beat ND at home:
Four double digit win seasons (Nothing less than 9 wins in the others)
FIVE bowl wins out of the 7 years
Nothing lower than a 3rd place finish in conference play....BRIAN are you taking note?


September 23rd, 2009 at 8:23 AM ^

I've been trying to temper my expectations, but you hit on something that I've been trying to ignore: It usually takes a really good UM team to beat ND. The sky has always been the limit after a ND win. Hopefully, the kids can stay focused--and healthy--and we can add to this list in a couple of months.

You forgot about 1978. UM wins 28-14. They ended the season Big 10 Champs and in Pasadena.

And, the 1986 teams that also beat ND and made it to Pasadena.


September 23rd, 2009 at 10:19 AM ^

I like what you've done here...but I'd like to see how the seasons turned out in years that ND won. If we had good to great seasons throughout these eras, then ND win/loss does not necessarily predict season outcome. That being said...wooooooo Focrcier and 3-0! Oh... and "Charlie Weiss should probably eat less"!


September 22nd, 2009 at 9:50 PM ^

Very interesting research. As the Carr era hit its twilight, he was untouchable in October but I'd be willing to bet the majority of his losses came in either September or November. His seasons got to be predictable top to bottom. 1-2 losses in September followed by Big Ten winning streak followed by 1-2 losses in November. That trend NEEDS to change.


September 22nd, 2009 at 10:44 PM ^

What is exciting to me from this research is that 4-0 teams rarely win less than 8 games in the regular season. I know we are all hoping for more like 9, 10, or 11 after this start, but as long as we make a bowl game I will be happy. I would be extremely ok with 8-4 and a bowl win.


September 22nd, 2009 at 11:22 PM ^

One wrong thing about your analysis, we were an upper echelon team. We predictable and had better athletes then the big ten. Thats why game we had lots of wins beating on the big 10


September 23rd, 2009 at 1:37 AM ^

This is preposterous. It is a well-known fact that few teams come out of the gates guns blazing like our beloved Michigan Wolverines. They never underestimate D1-AA schools or anything like that.

oriental andrew

September 23rd, 2009 at 9:58 AM ^

has never started better than 2-1. In 2005, he started 2-0, dropped the third game to MSU, won 2 more, then lost narrowly to USC for the greatest win of his career. ND actually started 4-2 that year, but Brady Quinn was pretty, ND almost won a big game, and then rattled off 5 wins against some of the crappiest football teams you could hope to find, before being slaughtered by OSU in the Fiesta bowl.


September 23rd, 2009 at 8:28 AM ^

I was re-watching the 2003 Minnesota game on Big Ten network last night.*

It struck me that our team is a lot like the Gophers who went 6-0 to start that season, then collapsed as soon as their paper-thin defense fell apart.

The '03 Gophers were a stacked offense, with three feature backs (Maroney was a freshman, Barber was a junior), a great center, a few good receivers, two NFL-bound tight ends, and a scrambly, moxie-infused QB.

Did I mention the paper-thin defense?

They also spread it a lot, using the speed and quicks of their great backs to consistently beat our slow DEs and LBs.

Michigan got lucky on the comeback, but we countered with a lot of screens to Perry, got a key INT-for-touchdown, had that Navarre buffalo stampede, and got a few key stops on late drives.

Anyway, the 6-0 Gophers faced an incredibly weak schedule to get there. As for Michigan, we're currently 3-0 against one halfway decent team, one pretty good team, and a team that could go winless this year. I wouldn't count any Big Ten team, even Indiana, as an automatic win, especially when the guy who made our O-line click is out.

But if we do win, that doesn't change my outlook for this team. I think we'll lose at least one of the two upcoming away games. If we come through MSU and Iowa 6-0, then we'll talk about a big season. Until then, we're still on track for what I imagined:

3-0 vs.
Delaware St.

3-1 vs.

1-1 vs.

1-2 vs.
Notre Dame de South Bend
the Ohio State University of Ohio (we're from Ohio!)
Penn State


* Actually, first-watching it. When it aired originally, they had moved it to a Friday Night, and Oblivion was playing the I-Rock and there ended up being 3 people total at the show but we couldn't leave and watch the f-in game.


September 23rd, 2009 at 8:28 AM ^

Interesting breakdown. Not sure what all of it means, but it was compelling nevertheless to see the breakdown of numbers.

Let me add this, however, for perspective.

In those 11 years that OSU began 4-0, Michigan would eventually beat them in 7 of those years.

In all of MSU's 4-0 starts, Michigan eventually beat them.

In PSU's 4-0 starts, Michigan beat them four out of those seven years.

Old School

September 23rd, 2009 at 10:04 AM ^

The most telling statistic from the past three games is that the offense is 3rd in the nation. Then, in the last two games they have stopped the opposing team in the 3rd quarter while the offense thrashes their defense and eats up the clock. I don't think that the latter fact is coincidence, even though Rick Rod professes that it is. I think it is ruthless football coaching!


September 24th, 2009 at 1:29 AM ^

Our RUSHING offense is third in the nation. 28th in total offense. And probably the only reason our offense is third in the nation is because we were able to bloat our stats with an incredible rushing performance against EMU. (I don't mean to downgrade our rushing attack, but I doubt third place will hold up)


September 23rd, 2009 at 12:42 PM ^

I find these correlations (and others like it) very interesting especially since i can remember so many of those games so well. HOWEVA, I get the distinct feeling that the RR era will be so very different and not like anything else that came before it.

I think we will be breaking all sorts of trends (good and bad). This is just such a different brand of football with such a different Mojo that I don't think the past has much bearing anymore (from a predictive standpoint).


September 23rd, 2009 at 12:49 PM ^

I believe PSU has a long history of scheduling a cupcake non-conference schedule. This year's slate (Akron, Syracuse, Temple, Eastern Illinois) is typical. Even before they joined the Big Ten, PSU was often criticized (and penalized in the rankings) for a weak schedule.

MSU's non-conference schedule is also routinely weak, aside from their annual tilt with Notre Dame. And for some odd reason, the Spartans have owned the Irish over the last 10-15 years, notwithstanding last week's outcome.

I believe OSU does occasionally schedule tough out-of-conference opponents, which makes their record of 4-0 starts pretty impressive.

blue in ak

September 23rd, 2009 at 1:41 PM ^

I sent these stats to a friend. (I especially liked the part about Ty.) He replied:

"Considering how early ND, MSU and UM play each other, none of the three of them could have more without totally dominating. Zero sum game for those three, whereas the PSU and OSU games come later."


September 23rd, 2009 at 5:00 PM ^

Just cause my most recent memory is much more clear, must have been the hash-brown-ies i ate every game day... but it was because of our difficult non-conference schedule that we never went 4-0. EVERY SEPTEMBER we played a hard non-conference team (often on the road) and lost before it was October 1st. This year, with first 4 games at home... against less than steller teams (with exception of ND which was SUCH A HUGE WIN)it makes things easier...
00- loss to UCLA second game (away)
01- loss to Washington second game (away)
02- loss in South Bend third game (away)(was there)
03- loss to Oregon(away)
04- loss to ND second game (away)
05- loss to ND second game (home) lost to Wisco 4th game (away)
06- speaks for itself
07- first two losses shall not be mentioned
08- lost to everyone

Again, moral is, when you play first 4 games at home... and only one team is ranked... it goes much better!!