That sucked. It started as a hard-hitting Big Ten rock fight with Michigan giving Wisconsin all it could handle. Then it dissolved into another miserable and hard to watch affair as Peters went down with a concussion and the team lost its mojo. On paper Michigan did pretty well; Peters had his most promising outing despite a couple of mistakes and the defense kept Wisconsin’s high-powered tailback in check for most of the game. Heck, with a couple of breaks (thanks replay guys!) the outcome could have been very different.
But things went the way they did and from a fan’s perspective it mostly just sucked. This week’s game satisfaction clocked in at a whopping 28.8, down almost 50 points from the past three weeks, slotting in just ahead of the Penn State debacle.
Figure 1. Wisconsin Game Satisfaction
Unsurprisingly, season satisfaction also took a nosedive, dipping to 36.3 after camping out near 70 the past two weeks. At this point most fans seem to be grappling with the cold hard truth that Michigan is likely to end the season 8-4 and without any quality wins (in fact, without a win over a team with a winning record).
Figure 2. Season Satisfaction after Maryland
This brings up an interesting point about fan psychology. Before the season started a lot of analysts, including our own Ecky Pting, predicted Michigan would go 8-4 this year and would have trouble doing better than 9-3. Michigan was rebuilding on both sides of the ball, had tough games on the road against Penn State and Wisconsin, and beating Ohio State is always a challenge. In theory, then, fans should be relatively sanguine about going 8-4. Most fans, of course, are decidedly not sanguine about it. Many of them are losing their shit. The threads and comments this past week have been a mess.
There are many reasons for this psychosis. The most basic reason is that fans are not rational. Emotions don’t obey the laws of analysis and logic. Just look at Michigan Twitter during a loss if you doubt that statement. Feeling better than warranted after crappy wins and worse than warranted after tough losses on the road to the #5 team in the nation is just what it means to be a fan.
Somewhat more specifically, though, I think fans have problems setting expectations. They look at the fancy stats analysis that provides a rational and compelling case for an 8-4 prediction and then they immediately imagine all the ways in which Michigan could beat the prediction. Speight will be better than last year; the receivers are young but more talented; MSU will suck because they lost all those guys; we play OSU at home this year, etc. Pretty soon the fan is screwed because 10-2, not 8-4, has now become his or her emotional baseline for success. I know this because I am one of these people. I can know in my head that 8-4 is a sign of progress, but my heart will still bleed at the failure to go 10-2 (or better, really).
Themes, Thoughts, Trends
I Am Too Rational!
Okay, fine. Figure 3 provides some evidence that fans aren’t entirely irrational. The correlation between scoring margin and game satisfaction is quite high. We can explain 78% of variation in game satisfaction with just the margin of victory (or loss). In my regular season wrap up column I will use my somewhat more complete model to simulate game and season satisfaction scores for each of the other Big Ten teams – I have already done several of them and the variations are very interesting.
Figure 3 Scoring Margin and Game Satisfaction
The Road Ahead
Well, we’ve reached the end of the line. It’s the last chance for Harbaugh and the guys to pull our season satisfaction numbers out of the toilet. A win sends Michigan fandom into bowl season with confidence and boundless optimism about next year. A loss, especially a crushing loss, well, the less said about that the better.
Figure 4 Season Trends