Over the last few years, I have begun thinking more and more that UM football was getting kind of “lucky” and squeaking by and on the verge of things going south if a few breaks went the other way. I decided to look back at UM’s record since 1997 (as far back as I could easily get to on mgoblue.com and a reasonable statement of the “modern era”) and see what UM’s record was in close games. I defined close games as being decided by seven points or less. My reasoning for that distinction being that literally one play could have made the difference in the game. I realize that is somewhat simplistic, but hey, this is probably a somewhat simplistic exercise.
Here are the records. Overall and “close games” in parenthesis.
1997 – 12-0 (4-0)
1998 – 10-3 (3-0)
1999 – 10-2 (7-2)
2000 – 9-3 (3-3)
2001 – 8-4 (2-3)
2002 – 10-3 (5-2)
2003 – 10-3 (2-2)
2004 – 9-3 (3-1)
2005 – 7-5 (3-5)
2006 – 11-2 (1-1)
2007 – 9-4 (4-1)
Total - 105 - 32 (37 - 20)
Looking back, UM won 76.6% of games overall and 64.9% of games decided by a touchdown or less in the last 11 years of the Carr regime. The question then becomes, what is a reasonable expectation for a good and / or elite team for a record in close games? I did a little research and picked 5 “elite” teams and 5 blah / so so / meh teams and looked at how they did. Note: For the elite teams I took their record starting with the second season of their current coach. For the blah teams, I just took the last five years.
USC – 82-9 (11-9)
OSU – 76-14 (18-8)
Florida – 35-6 (7-4)
LSU – 31-9 (9-5)
Georgia – 74-18 (26-12)
Arizona State – 38-24 (10-5)
Oregon – 41-21 (12-7)
Oklahoma State – 34-28 (6-9)
Michigan State – 30-31 (5-16)
Pittsburgh – 33-27 (12-11)
What does this tell us? Umm… I’m not really sure, other than it took me way too long to look all of this up. Some things to note.
- USC hasn’t lost a game by more than a touchdown since Carroll’s first year. Wow.
- USC is pretty average if you get them in a tight game.
- Arizona State doesn’t play many close games. Must be kind of boring to watch.
- Not evident in these stats, but OSU was an amazing 11-1 in 12 games decided by a touchdown or less in ’02 and ’03 (big winning years). Krenzel was probably pretty underrated when it came to getting the job done.
- State was atrocious in close games over the last five years. If they break even in them, John L is probably still there.
- Michigan played more close games than anyone else in this data. A whopping 41.6% of UM’s games were decided by a touchdown or less. This probably doesn’t shock anyone that UM got into too many close games over Carr’s tenure. Only Georgia with 41.3% close games was in the same ball park. The funny thing is, over the last while, I would have picked Georgia out as a UM clone.
- As to my original hypothesis, with the exception of USC, teams with the highest winning percentages overall also had the highest winning percentage in close games. This tells me that Michigan “squeaking by” in those close games wasn’t really luck, it was because they were good. Or they were good because they were lucky. Or when it comes down to it, good and lucky are kind of the same thing. To me, that’s good to see.
- If UM would have won its customary 65% of close games last year, they would have been 5-7, which to me would have been easier to stomach. It wasn’t that far off, really. Beat Toledo and pull out one of Utah, NW, or Purdue and there they are.
- USC, Ohio State, Florida, and Georgia all made significant turnarounds in their respective coaches second years. Granted, none of their first years were as bad as Rodriguez’s, but it’s a good sign.
So there’s all of that, for what it’s worth.