Not-Too-Deep Comparison of UM, ND, MSU and OH 2-Deeps

Submitted by BlueKoj on August 27th, 2014 at 8:26 PM

I’ll begin with a confession and a qualification. I am admittedly a “youther” in that I think it’s legitimate to evaluate UM’s performance within the context of game-experience, program experience, eligibility, etc. That doesn’t get the coaches (in any regime) or players “off the hook” but it does provide context. In my world view this is a factor in determining past performance and future expectations.

My world view (as informed by MGoBlog) also holds that stars matter to set expectations of player performance up and down the roster in general. Thus Roster Make-up (“RM”) combines eligibility, game experience, and recruit ranking to provide a prism through which I view a team’s performance. It should be noted, I do not think there is an acceptable context for 3-win seasons, 27 for 27 or minus-48 vs. Sparty.

I thought I’d compare the MSU, OH, ND and UM 2-deeps. The qualification is that depth charts are often not worth the paper they’re printed on, and this snap shot will change over the course of the season. In general, I think the analysis is still relevant.


Hopefully, the Mathlete, his legion of fans (of which I’m one) and the other phenomenal statisticians/mathemagicians aren’t too disappointed in this clumsy and simple view…but a method should mirror its maker, yes?

The two-deeps are taken from a variety of sources and generally align with the most recent version I could find. UM’s does not fall in line with the App St. chart regarding Glasgow and Kalis. I used the 11W 2-deep from today, and Rivals for MSU and ND (both updated the 26th).

Regarding the rankings, I looked at the four main ranking sites and came up with these groups:

  • 5*: Any site giving 5* rating (e.g. Peppers, Shane, Green)
  • u4: (Unanimous) 4* from all 4 sites (e.g. Beyer, Cole, Countess)
  • c4: (Consensus) 4* from a majority of the sites (e.g. Funchess)
  • 4*: (Low) 4* 1 or 2 sites rated as a 4* (e.g. Taylor)
  • h3: (high) 3* as a 5.7 and/or 88+ and/or 78+ (e.g. Braden)
  • 3*: Any site giving 3* rating (e.g. Henry, JMFR)
  • 2*: walk-on or actual 2* rating (e.g. Glasgows)

Note: UM’s “games played” numbers are based on player participation reports so UM’s numbers reflect positional experience. The other teams are derived from player bios and those do not often adequately separate special teams play vs. positional play unless it is “games started.” UM’s games played will seenm lower by comparison.

Yr 5* u4 c4 4* h3 3* 2*   1st 2nd
4.5 1         1 1 3 2 1
4   1   1 2     4 3 1
3.5   1     1   2 4 2 2
3 1 4 2 2       9 6 3
2.5 1 1 2   2 2 1 9 7 2
2 3 4 2         9 1 8
1.5   2     1     3 0 3
1 1 1   1       3 1 2
  7 14 6 4 6 3 4 44 22 22
1st 3 7 2 2 3 3 2 22    
2nd 4 7 4 2 3 0 2 22    

Michigan (1st string: 201 Gms Started/394 Gms Played…1st+2nd259 GS/600 GP)

Michigan’s 2-deep looks as one would expect (especially if one is an avid follower on this site). The roster is full of flaming redshirts (57%) is anchored by Hoke’s 2012 class (43%), and has a lot of highly rated guys (aka “talented”). As can be seen later, relative to UM’s rivals there’s a good balance of game experience, age (trending youthfully), and talent. I’m glad to note only 2 starters are 1st or 2nd year guys, and yes, this may move to 4 with Peppers and Lewis, but is still better than years’ past. This roster is trending the right way, looks better in 2015, and makes me feel cautiously optimistic.

Yr 5* u4 c4 4* h3 3* 2*   1st 2nd
4.5   1 1   1     3 2 1
4 1       1 1   3 3 0
3.5   2 1     2 1 6 4 2
3 1 3   1 1     6 5 1
2.5       2 1     3 0 3
2 3 4 2 2       11 8 3
1.5   3 2         5 0 5
1 1 2 2 2       7 0 7
  6 15 8 7 4 3 1 44    
1st 4 9 3 2 2 1 1 22    
2nd 2 6 5 5 2 2 0 22    

Notre Dame (1st string: 141 GS/449 GP…1st+2nd171 GS/586 GP)

The suspensions (should they last) created a problem for ND. The 2-deep got much younger and much less experienced. With Russell, Williams, Daniels and Moore Kelly loses 38 GS. The good news for the Irish is that the 2-deep is still pretty highly rated (slightly higher than UM’s). ND burns more redshirts than UM, and by the looks of it will be doing so again this year. ND has a dearth of 4th/5th years similar to UM’s. By contrast, they make up for it with true sophs and not so much by Kelly’s 2012 class. That 18th ranked class was smallish (18) and lost top-2 Kiel and Neal to attrition and is without Russell (for now). Kelly is going to rely on the most 1st/2nd year guys of any of the rivals (by far). Talented, but young and inexperienced is this group’s hallmark.

Yr 5* u4 c4 4* h3 3* 2*   1st 2nd
4.5         6 3 2 11 7 4
4         1     1 1 0
3.5 1     3 6 2 1 13 10 3
3   1     1     2 0 2
2.5   1   2 4 2 1 10 2 8
2       1 1     2 2 0
1.5   1 1   1     3 0 3
1 1   1         2 0 2
  2 3 2 6 20 7 4 44 22 22
1st 1 0 0 3 11 5 2 22    
2nd 1 3 2 3 9 2 2 22    

Michigan State (1st string: 237 GS/532 GP…1st+2nd267 GS/840 GP)

MSU’s roster also looks as one would expect. What they’ve lost seems to be a recurring topic, but with the most game starts of these 4 teams, Dantonio’s system keeps rolling. His 2-deep loathes burning redshirts (11%), loves 4th/5th year guys (59%), and plays with a chip on its shoulder from not being highly rated (70% below 4*). MSU freshmen lay in the weeds, learn, and win scout team awards (unless they’re Malik McDowell or Brian Allen). 2nd year guys get little love here as well. Basically, talk to the hand until the 3rd year, and even then its mostly just to get seasoning (excepting the 2-3 guys who MSU beat UM/OSU/ND for). Likely this will be the RM throughout Dantonio’s regime. The ratings are trending higher, but Dantonio’s RM will look a lot like this until he retires. Why fix it if it ain’t broke?

Yr 5* u4 c4 4* h3 3* 2*   1st 2nd
4.5   1   2       3 1 2
4 2 2 1 3 1     9 7 2
3.5   3   1       4 0 4
3 3 2 1 1 1     8 6 2
2.5       2 1     3 1 2
2 2 2   1       5 4 1
1.5 2 4 1 1       8 2 6
1 2 1 1         4 1 3
  11 15 4 11 3 0 0 44 22 22
1st 4 7 3 6 2 0 0 22    
2nd 7 8 1 5 1 0 0 22    

Ohio State (1st string: 168 Gms Started/413 Gms Played…1st+2nd178 GS/533 GP)

At Ohio State they reload. Even with the loss of Miller, that seems true. Meyer will have significantly more 5* than UM and ND. He’ll field a 2-deep devoid of 3* or 2* guys. Only 3 “high 3s” blemish this constellation of 4 & 5 stars. Though nothing like MSU’s load of 4th/5th year guys, Meyer will field more than UM and ND. They’ll also field more 1st/2nd year guys than UM, but not close to ND’s nursery. Loaded with talent, lacking experience, and led by a decent number of 4/5 year guys, Ohio State looks the way they usually do. Still, this could be a “down” year. That was probably going to mean 1-2 losses with Miller. Without him, I think it may mean 2 – 3.

Who Needs Starz?

Michigan will start three 3* guys (JMFR, Henry, JClark) and the Glasgows are walk-ons. MSU will start 5 3* guys (Calhoun, Waynes, Drummond, Langford and Kieler) with 2 w/o (Gliechart and Conklin). ND only starts one 3* and 1 w/o, and Meyer has no idea what is being discussed in this paragraph. Both Michigan schools have a shot a putting a number of these lower-rated recruits on the all-B1G lists. Unsurprisingly, there are no 1st or 2nd year guys in anyone’s 2-deep from the 3*/2* groups.

Looking at the QBs

Gardner is the best on paper (5th yr, 5*, 21/37 GP/GS, though 16 GS at QB), then Cook (4th yr, h3, 13/17), Golson (4th yr, c4, 11/12), and finally Barrett (2nd yr, u4, 0/0). This should bode well for UM, though three of the four look pretty decent. Barrett’s gonna struggle some, but the question is how much.

It Goes Without Saying the Above Paragraph All Depends on…

It may be wishful thinking, but my starting UM OL is still Cole, Mags, Glasgow, Kalis and Braden. That is worth 28/43 GS/GP and 4 highly rated guys (with Glasgow maybe being the best guy right now). MSU counters with 59/100 but with that “underrated” chip referenced earlier. ND should challenge UM’s DL with “grizzled” vets 50/103 who are very “talented” and older. OH will have 23/82 and such “meh” talent that their 2nd string includes talented DLs who’ve switched over, but have no experience. On paper, UM’s line is about as questionable as OH…maybe a little less, but they’re both close, and both scary. If Kalis isn’t a starter…damn.


I went into this thinking UM was likely to finish with 9-10 wins and would take 1 of 3 vs. these teams. I don’t think that record changes, since this exercise really made me feel better about ND struggling (who I already thought was the most likely W). Still, UM’s RM is balanced and relatively good compared to these rivals. OH is the most “talented” by a decent amount, but less experienced. MSU is doing what they do, and will be tough. ND looks young, talented, inexperienced and vulnerable. UM’s OL is still relatively young and inexperienced, but so is OH’s. In all, if this season doesn’t go well, RM isn’t something that I’ll be factor into the post-mortem.


  • UM has the 2nd lowest rated true frosh in Freddy (ND’s Daniel Cage), and the highest (Peppers)
  • UM is tied with ND for most c4/u4/5* since the 2012 class with 23.
  • In 2015 the 4/5 yr guys from these 2014 2-deeps = MSU 25, UM 22, ND & OH 15
  • MSU has burned 7 redshirts. Four are 5/4 stars and three are high 3s
  • ND’s only walk-on is starting at LB. Their only 3* is starting at S.
  • UM’s D has the most game-starts by a wide margin…and is talented enough to make it count.






August 27th, 2014 at 9:53 PM ^

Read an article where MSU has burned 26 redshirts in 7 years, and that included specialists such as Geiger (K) last year and a long snapper in 2012.  8 of those were in the past 3 years (leaving 18 in the first 5 years when one would assume he would have burned many more to make up for talent deficiency) so Dantonio chose the Wisconsin way from the get go.  Basically they will burn 3-4 redshirts a year and everyone else goes into the vault.  This year seems the same with McDowell, Evans as the only 2 guys who will 'certainly' play.

To put in perspective 26 over 7 years, we burned 12 and 13 respectively the past 2 years.  Part of that goes to "talent" but part of that just goes to need.

I didnt look at ND when I did this about 4 months ago but looked at OSU v UM v MSU v WIS and then threw in NEB as a team I assumed was a hybrid and that is pretty much how it works.  Talent at OSU and UM plays early - as they usually get higher rated players.  And have to cycle through players more quickly (many more players are only on campus in AA and Columbus for 4 years)  Talent at Wisconsin and MSU simmers almost universally for 2+ years.  Nebraska is more along the lines of playing 6-7 guys right away and having about half the RSs a MSU/Wisconsin has in its 2 deeps but more than OSU/UM. 

It is too simple to say " redshirt everyone and have a good program" - if that was all it took, that is what everyone would do.  But when you combine redshirting with good player development and a system you recruit to, you have MSU and Wisconsin.  And unless its a top 25-75 player nationally I don't think there is much difference between player #123 in the country that a UM or OSU will get versus a player #240 in the country that a Wisconsin or MSU might get, especially since these evaluations are at age 16-17 years old and player #240 (or #340) is usually facing player #123 when he is a 21-22 year old versus having to face him when he is 19 yrs old due to his coach's redshirting policy.

With all that said both systems work - many of the SEC teams play players early and succeed.  They just have the benefit of "cutting" 5-6 of them every year when they don't work out after 2 years.  After this year there is zero excuse about lack of depth, youth, or anything in this program.  It's time to be a top 10 program again with the type of talent being brought in.  Anything less points to coaching, and I dont mean Hoke - I mean the whole chain.


August 28th, 2014 at 11:39 AM ^

I would add that this approach will not work under all circumstances nor for all coaches. I think it can only work somewhere where expectations and short term goals are low. It took Dantonio three years to get MSU where they are now. He was the benefactor of huge good fortune in that his cheif rival (Michigan) took a major turn down at the very begginning of his tenure and he could buy time by beating us in 2008 and 2009 while his program took hold. The rest is history. 

low expectations + good coach +good apporach + good luck ... some of those factors are more controllable than others.


August 28th, 2014 at 12:44 PM ^

Good posts. I hope noone is inferring that Dantonio's method is RS at all costs or that it would work everywhere. What is clear is that it has worked for MSU, and will continue to work for them. Once a program can get to that point, it is much easier to sustain it. As they get more consensus 4s and up to 5* guys, those are the types whose RS will burn.

Hoke didn't have the option and neither did RR.


August 27th, 2014 at 10:15 PM ^

I think what jumps out is that there isn't much of a difference between player 325 and player 750. MSU doesn't get a lot of 4/5 stars, but they feast on "high-3s". Given the vagaries of recruit rankings that isn't surprising. Plug those guys in the RS machine and it makes sense how they've been successful. Age and years/consistency in a program can trump "talent."


August 28th, 2014 at 1:55 PM ^

I really like how you can see that State's team is like a polar opposite of UM's team.

UM - lots of numbers in the lower left corner (meaning high stars, but young)

State - lots of numbers in the upper right corner (meaning lower stars, but experienced)