Michigan by the Numbers: A Seven Year Retrospective

Submitted by The Mathlete on August 16th, 2010 at 6:19 PM

After blazing a trail of posts to start the summer The Mathlete went into hiding, moved the Mathcave halfway across the country into an abandoned missile silo in an undisclosed location in the Midwest and was never to be heard from again. Then shortly before the season kicked off, The Mathlete emerged without notice with a set of formulas in hand carefully crafted to guarantee* an undefeated season.

*Results not guaranteed.

Unfortunately I am not emerging from hiding with any earth shattering secrets.  With the aid of MCaliber’s programming skills, I have been able to load all available games from 2003 to present.  Not all games are available, but there are enough to get a good data set. Unless the new College Football Reference manages to dig them all up, this appears to be as far back as I can find quality and consistent play by play data to do what I do. It would have been nice to get the whole decade, but this will have to do. As always, all numbers and rankings are opponent adjusted value vs. average and includes only games against D1 opponents.


The purely data driven rankings fell close in line with MATW’s ranking for the decade.  The only exception was the 2004 team fell just behind 2005 and 2007.  The 2003 Michigan team cracked the top 50 teams of the last 7 years, coming in at #46 overall. That team was also the #6 team in the Big 10  behind OSU 05-07 and the 05 and 08 PSU teams.

The 2003 squad featured both the highest offensive (+6.4) and defensive (+9.1) seasons measured for Michigan.

Despite a rough finish to the period, Michigan finished as the 22st best program over the 7 year period, averaging 8.2 ppg above average.  OSU finished 5th and PSU came in 9th while Wisconsin and Iowa were just behind Michigan at 24 and 25. Looking only at the Llyod Carr era, Michigan was 9th nationally from 2003-2007, incidentally one spot behind Rich Rodriguez and West Virginia who were #8 overall and #5 offensively.

Texas was ranked #1 for the seven year period, averaging 21.8 points per game better than average for the time period.  Oklahoma, Florida and USC were next at just over 18 ppg and Ohio St rounded out the top 5 at +16.1.


Chad Henne was the only Michigan signal caller to qualify for the career standings, checking in at #40 in value added.  From 2004-2007 Chad added 152 points of value to the Michigan offense and was rated #8 among Big 10 quarterbacks.  Troy Smith was the clearcut number one for the Big 10, producing 250 points above average from 2004-2006.  Your top five nationally were Matt Leinart, John Beck, Tim Tebow, Vince Young and Colt Brennan.

Michigan’s best year by a quarterback was Henne’s 2005 campaign which produced 88 points above average. John Navarre in 2003 was second and Tate Forcier from last year came in third with Henne taking the next three spots as well.

Running Backs

Mike Hart was the #4 rated rusher nationally from 2003-2007.  During his four years he produced nearly 84 points above average on the ground and trailed only Deangelo WIlliams, Laurence Maroney and Cedric Benson among all backs.  Hart’s highest rated season was his freshman campaign of 2004 when he was good for over 4.5 points per game of value.  The next best Michigan seasons where Hart 2007, Perry 2003, Minor 2008 and Hart 2005.

Wide Receivers

On a per game basis, Braylon is the only receiver to crack the top 100 for the seven year period but both Jason Avant and Mario Manningham were top 60 in total contribution with over 150 points produced each.

In the Future

Hopefully my schedule is now tame enough that I can start getting posts up again.  Look for a team/conference preview along with what I’ve got on UConn during game week. 



August 16th, 2010 at 6:27 PM ^

I wonder how badly they are skewed by running up the score/crazy spread attacks/low calibre opponents because some of the results make it seem that way.

Impaler 19

August 16th, 2010 at 8:00 PM ^

Awesome work done here.  I do not have the patience or the desire to spend the time to put something like this together but I really enjoy seeing the numbers put together.  I like when we can look at firm numbers and they backup what our jaded eyes see. 

It looks like that is exactly what we are getting with these numbers.  It shows a good quality program with some great individual numbers.  In my eyes over the last 7 years this is what I remember.

Bronco Joe

August 17th, 2010 at 1:22 AM ^

Michigan’s best year by a quarterback was Henne’s 2005 campaign which produced 88 points above average. John Navarre in 2003 was second and Tate Forcier from last year came in third with Henne taking the next three spots as well.

Could you explain how the rankings are determined? It seems Forcier's season, while obviously very helpful to the team, really didn't compare stats-wise to anything Henne ever did. Or is that the point? That Forcier made a huge difference in the team, even though the team did poorly, and they would've done much worse without him?


August 17th, 2010 at 11:11 AM ^

Mike Hart---shows the numbers you can rack up if you're the only guy carrying the ball for four seasons.

Chadlington Hennchips---were there really 8 QBs in the league with higher numbers than Chad during that tenure? That seems like an indictment on his value than anything else.

Unless, I am confused. Which often happens in these quirky math blog posts.

The Mathlete

August 17th, 2010 at 12:42 PM ^

I dug into this one a bit more and on first and second down, Henne was the #4 QB in the Big 10.  On third down plays, which are have very big expected value swings due to their binary nature, Henne dropped to #14 over his career.  That's the data.  Beyond that I think Michigan's pass game was more suited to big plays set up by play action and the running game.  I don't know that their offense and thus Henne's performance were as good as other systems when they couldn't lean on a running game to convert third downs.  Again, the system thing is just a theory but there is a huge swing in his peformance ranking on 3rd down vs 1st and second.