Putting 2011 in context (updated!)

Submitted by AC1997 on January 5th, 2012 at 1:39 AM

Last night Team 132 finished one of the more memorable, rewarding, and unexpected seasons in recent memory.  Brian and much of the blogsphere have valiantly focused on what this team accomplished, what they overcame, and how well they have represented the university not just this season, but through their entire careers.  But there has been consistent talk among some fans and media types about how "Michigan is back". 

With the help of my brother  I set out to understand if this 11-2 season with a BCS bowl victory matched some vague definition of Michigan past and thus validates the claim of the program being back.  I looked at all seasons in the "Bo era" of UM football to see when the team finished the season with a good record and BCS bowl appearance. 

But in order to do that, we need a chart.

Chart you say? 

Wait - there is an alter ego in this post too?

Yes - So let's see the chart then! 

**UPDATE**  In the comments user "Vasav" made a suggestion that we could create a metric that took into account beating OSU, winning the conference, and final ranking to get a "score" for that season.  I updated the table below with that metric, though I changed his values somewhat. 

  • Versus MSU:  Win = 0.5, Tie = 0.2, Loss = 0.0
  • Versus OSU:  Win = 1.0, Tie = 0.5, Loss = 0.0
  • Big Ten Finish:  1st = 1.0, Tied for 1st = 0.5, Other = 0.0
  • Bowl Outcome:  Win = 1.0, Loss = 0.0
  • Final AP Rank:  1-5 = 1.0, 6-10 = 0.5, Other = 0.0

There are obvious flaws in this such as the difference between being ranked 5 and 6 costing a significant amount toward the final score or the fact that you can't have "ties" for the conference title like you used to before this season.  But it is a starting point and helps sort these seasons, so the table has been updated.  (Read below for other updates.)

Year Coach











Bowl Opp Res





2011 Hoke 11-2 6-2 L W 3rd Sugar V-Tech W TBD 1.5
2006 Carr 11-2 7-1 W L 2nd Rose USC L #6 1.0
2004 Carr 9-3 7-1 W L 1st (t) Rose Texas L #14 1.0
2003 Carr 10-3 7-1 W W 1st Rose USC L #6 3.0
1999 Carr 10-2 6-2 L W 2nd Orange Bama W #5 2.5
1997 Carr 12-0 8-0 W W 1st Rose WSU W #1 4.0
1992 Mo 9-0-3 6-0-2 W T 1st Rose Wash W #5 3.5
1991 Mo 10-2 8-0 W W 1st Rose Wash L #6 3.0
1989 Bo 10-2 8-0 W W 1st Rose USC L #7 3.0
1988 Bo 9-2-1 7-0-1 W W 1st Rose USC W #4 4.0
1986 Bo 11-2 7-1 W W 1st (t) Rose ASU L #8 2.5
1985 Bo 10-1-1 6-1-1 W W 2nd Fiesta Neb W #2 3.0
1983 Bo 9-3 8-1 W W 2nd Sugar Auburn L #8 2.0
1982 Bo 8-4 8-1 W L 1st Rose UCLA L #15 1.5
1980 Bo 10-2 8-0 W W 1st Rose Wash W #4 4.0
1978 Bo 10-2 7-1 L W 1st (t) Rose USC L #5 2.5
1977 Bo 10-2 7-1 W W 1st (t) Rose Wash L #9 2.5
1976 Bo 10-2 7-1 W W 1st (t) Rose USC L #3 3.0
1975 Bo 8-2-2 7-1 W L 2nd Orange Okla L #8 1.0
1974 Bo 10-1 7-1 W L 1st (t) none n/a -- #3 2.0
1973 Bo 10-0-1 7-0-1 W T 1st (t) none n/a -- #6 2.0
1972 Bo 10-1 7-1 W L 1st (t) none n/a -- #6 1.5
1971 Bo 11-1 8-0 W W 1st Rose Stanf L #6 3.0
1970 Bo 9-1 6-1 W L 2nd none n/a -- #9 1.0
1969 Bo 8-3 6-1 L W 1st (t) Rose USC L #9 2.0

What did we learn from that?

Well, you can find just about anything on the Bentley LIbrary site. 

Besides the shameless plug, what else did we learn?

There are several things that were interesting in this research.  Here are a few.

  • Carr (2-3) and Bo (3-10) did a lot to promote the belief that the Big Ten can't win big games.
  • But they also got to these big games at a very high rate with Carr going to 5 BCS games in 13 years and Bo going to 13 in 21 years.  This may be where the "Michigan is back" meme comes from since the five year drought we just lived through had only happened one other time in the past 40 years. 
  • Carr, Mo, and Bo all had several historically great seasons with Carr's 1997,  Bo's 1985, and Bo's 1988 standing out perhaps as the best.

    • **UPDATE**  When applying the "Vasav score" you see these seasons change slightly.  Obviously 1997 and 1988 still stack up, but 1985 is lower on the list than 1980 and 1992. 
  • Damn.....Bo was a great coach.  Over time I had sort of felt like his memory was greater than his actual resume, but you can't help being amazed at his tenure.  The Rose Bowls, top ten rankings, and conference titles are more than impressive. 
  • What was it like to be a die-hard fan from 1970 to 1974?  In five seasons Bo went 50-4-1, won or tied for the conference title 4 times, finished in the top ten each season and only went to ONE bowl game.  Imagine the server damage that would have been done if MGoBlog existed then. 
  • **UPDATE**  Look at how 2006 scores out despite being perhaps Carr's second best team.  I think this is a good test of the Vasav score because that great season left such a bitter taste in our mouths for having lost to OSU and then USC when we were perhaps so close to a championship. 

Well, those are some nice bullets, but does that mean the people saying "Michigan's Back!" are right? 

Can't we just focus on this great season and the heart shown by the members of the team who have put everything they had into this program despite the chaos over the past several years? 

No - I need an answer.  Is Michigan back?  Does this season stack up against the rest?

The answer is "not quite".  Finishing with an 11-2 record and BCS win (regardless of how ugly) is amazing and stacks up with some of the best seasons ever.  Considering the past 4 years that is a great accomplishment and shows that the program is on the right track and about as "back" as could be dreamed of before this season started. 

But there are a couple of things that put it a notch below most of the seasons on the list.  First is the fact that Michigan finished as the third best team in the conference behind MSU and Wisconsin, despite the deserved BCS appearance.  Classic Michigan teams expected to win the conference and did more often than not.  That's the goal and motivation for next year.  Another difference is that Michigan will likely finish ranked outside the top ten this year while all but two of the teams on the list finished with a better final ranking.

Hoke has exceeded expectations and has Michigan poised to compete for BCS bowls going forward, even if this season is a slight notch below the great ones of the past 40 years. Bring on Alabama and 2012!  Go Blue!

**UPDATE**  Response to comments

It is always dangerous to respond to comments, so I'll keep this brief.  Obviously I, and most readers of this site, agree with Brady Hoke when he says that Michigan isn't "back" because it never went anywhere.  No matter what the record on the field, the men wearing the winged helmets have represented the university with integrity and worked their tails off both on and off the field.  The "Michigan is back" meme is used in this post as a backdrop to putting the 2011 season in historical context.  Anyone reading this blog has lived and died emotionally with this team no matter their record or coach and can attest to Michigan not needing to be "back."

Likewise, there is no arguing that 2011 was a spectacular season by any measure or metric.  The fact that we are even comparing it to the other 24 on this list states that.  But this post was a way to both celebrate the past, celebrate 2011, and look forward to areas where we can still improve. 

Finally, I intentionally avoided any discussion of late-era Carr or Rodriguez because that isn't relevant.  Whatever ill-will or praise you have for either coach does not factor into the on-field significance of their past seasons so I hope we can avoid turning another series of comments into an argument about either coach.





January 5th, 2012 at 2:04 AM ^

Hoke would like to have some strong words with you about Michigan being back....


Seriously though, this is great. It's nice to see everthing stacked up in one place, rather than having to jump around on different tabs. I honestly believe Michigan is about to enter a Bo type of run, not a 50-4-1 great run, but I think we'll see a No. 1 ranking within the next 5 years, and more after that too


January 5th, 2012 at 2:11 AM ^

any post about loser lloyd and his failures is incomplete without noting his betrayal of rich rodriguez. slap a few more losses on his bcs record and you still won't cover what he did to ruin the team or rich rodriguez's life. sorry to go a bit off topic but his name is plastered all over this post and his evil behavior should never go overlooked.

you could try it in his name: lloyd carr* went such and so in these bowls.

*piece of shit and usurper of rightful coach

thank syou for the edits in advance.


January 5th, 2012 at 2:41 AM ^

Actually, I don't think it is necessary to smear Lloyd Carr on this diary.

The people who frequent this blog have mostly read Three & Out and closely followed the program throughout the events described therein.  Most posters are generally quite familiar with how Carr handled himself during the RIch Rod era and have well-informed opinions on the subject.  Name-calling and profanity contribute nothing of value to the topic.  

Moreover, Lloyd Carr's legacy and continuing association with Michigan Football is actually a rather complex matter.  If your analytical skills have not progressed beyond the Manichean stage, you might want to stick to Justin Boren-themed insults.



January 5th, 2012 at 2:56 AM ^

no, his legacy is very clear and it is not subtle.. and anyone would be foolish to bury his head in the sand and try to deny or nuance the piece of shit cretin that is LLLLoyd carr

Hardware Sushi

January 5th, 2012 at 10:49 AM ^

Did somebody just finish reading "Three And Out" after getting it for Christmas?

Haha that's the only reason I can figure you're so pissed about this right now. Yeah, he did a lot of bad stuff that can't be explained logically, but I think everybody is pretty much over it.

He's old, just walks around waving to people now and he won't be doing that to Brady. Time to move on.


January 5th, 2012 at 2:26 AM ^

I think this 2011 season ranks right up there with some of the best seasons on the chart.  The only season that was indisputably better was the 1997 MNC year.  In most of the other seasons, Michigan either lost its bowl game or lost to Ohio.  

Personally I don't see much of a difference between finishing 2nd or 3rd in the B1G--either way you're not in first.  


January 5th, 2012 at 3:22 AM ^

The high water mark since Bo came to town has to be 1997 - which is conveniently also the last year before the BCS era. So allow me to just look at seasons where we've made a BCS game since 1997, just to let me wrap my head around this season a bit better.

I also think the major metrics should be: A) Big Ten Championships B) Beating Ohio C) Final Ranking. I feel like our bowl performance/conference's respect/W-L record is usually summmed up in the final ranking. So a full point for a top 5 finish, and a half a point for a top ten finish, a half a point for a shared B1G title, full point for an outright title, and beating Ohio is worth a point.

So in 1999, we didn't win the Big Ten but we did beat Ohio (+1) and finished at #5 after beating 'Bama in the Orange Bowl (+1)

2003, win the Big Ten outright (+1), beat Ohio (+1), and finish just outside the top-5 after an ugly Rose Bowl loss to cap off a 10-win season (+0.5)

2004, won a share of the Big Ten (+0.5) but lose to Ohio, and lose a classic Rose Bowl. We're ranked #14 in the AP

2006, lose the Big Ten Title @Ohio, and get walloped by USC in the Rose Bowl to finish at #6 (+0.5)

four sad years...

2011, lose the Big Ten Title (a loss in Indy would be worth 0.5) but beat Ohio (+1) and win the Sugar Bowl...but I don't think we're going to finish in the top ten. Looking at who's in front of us in the AP poll, we've got to jump three teams for a top ten finish. We won't jump any of the top 4, and only two other teams ahead of us will lose. And it's doubtful we'll jump Wiscy anyway. I'm guessing we move up to #12.

So the results are: 2003 (2.5); 1999 (2); 2011 (1); and 2004 & 2006 (0.5)

Stacks up pretty well for the BCS era. But we've got some work to do before we'll declare "Michigan is back." To quote Bo Schembechler, "We want the Big Ten Championship, and we're going to win it as a team!"

Let's make 2012 the best since 1997, boys!


January 5th, 2012 at 4:24 AM ^

I became obsessed, and decided to use AC1997's chart and my metric to see how 2011 stacks up with all of the "BCS" type seasons Michigan football has had since Bo took over as head coach. Also, I gave the #1 ranking an extra point. I made a little spreadsheet but don't know how to post that, so I'll just transcribe each season and its score. The results:

1st - 1997(4 points); 2nd - 1988, 1980(3); 4th - 2003, 1992, 1991, 1989, 1978, 1976, 1971(2.5); 11th - 1999, 1986, 1985, 1977, 1969(2); 16th - 1983, 1974, 1973(1.5); 19th - 2011, 1982, 1972(1); 22nd - 2006, 2004, 1975, 1970(0.5)

So 2011 is tied with two others for our 19th best season in the past 42 by this metric - putting it in the fiftieth percentile. 2011 should be considered as "pretty good" when comparing it to the last 42 years - but I think that's just a testament to how good we were, and how hard we fell, more than anything else.

Also interesting to note that Bo coached 11 of our 16 best teams over the same period - and 15 of our top 25 in his twenty seasons. Bo's teams were truly incredible - I know it was a different time, but it is still remarkable.

Getting back to the original topic, a larger sample size yields the same conclusion for me - I think we want the Big Ten Championship before we can consider ourselves to be "back."


January 5th, 2012 at 10:11 AM ^

Wow. Excellent breakdown there. One thing you're forgetting, though, is that now that the Big 10 is 12 teams, there are no more co-champions. A lot of championship years under Bo we were co-champs, not outright (I think the majority, actually, IIRC). Starting in 2011 though, that option is not available to us. Consider what would have happened this year had we not lost to Iowa: Under the new system, State still would have gone to the Championship game, thus disqualifying us from any share of the championship. However, under the old system, we would have been co-champions with Lil Bro. So B1G championships are going to be a lot harder to obtain in the future, not because our teams are any worse, but because there's no co-championships anymore.

What does that mean for this metric of success? Well, any teams from 2011-onwards are going to come across as less impressive than their seasons actually were because we're applying an uneven standard of championship.

The remedy? For any teams 2011 or beyond, if the Michigan team of that year would have been champion or co-champ under the old system, give them their point in the year-by-year comparison metric, even if they didn't actually win it. I know it's not too satisfying to give them credit for something that they didn't actually do, but if you want to compare years with each other, that's the only way to do it. Apples and orange bowls.


January 5th, 2012 at 5:53 AM ^

All we can hope for is a 10-15 ranking that will last until the preseason. Alabama and LSU play a close game, but Alabama's defense really steps up and wins it for them. Alabama's defense is decimated by graduation and the draft (Jrs. leave early), their offense will be pretty cleaned out as well - except for OT Barrett Joes and AJ McCarron. LSU will also give us a pretty good game plan on how to attack them as well. It could set up very well for us, we have a knack for beating defending SEC National Champions and a victory in Dallas could springboard us into a very special season in '12.

Perkis-Size Me

January 5th, 2012 at 7:07 PM ^

I think the only departure from Alabama that's really going to help us next year is Richardson. The guy's an absolute freak of nature who will be sorely missed, and their backup, our good friend Dee Hart, will be rehabbing an injury all offseason. We're also really lucky that Alabama is yet to truly replace Julio Jones.

That having been said, I think Alabama's too good at this point for their defense to take any significant step back. Don't think it will be quite as good, but it will still be elite, and likely the best defense Michigan faces all year.

LSU will definitely get us a good game plan going forward, and we tend to fare well against the SEC, but I'm not holding my breath on pulling an upset. Something, however, tells me it will be a highly defensive struggle all night, and it will come down to the 4th quarter, if not the closing minutes.


January 5th, 2012 at 7:49 PM ^

Totally disagree. First off isn't Eddie Lacy, who averaged 7.5 yard per carry their backup rb?

On the other hand if they lose 7 or 8 starters from the #1 d in the country, that should help tremendously. Not saying their d will be bad but it is awesome this year, even dropping down to just good, and we'll be seeing them with a lot of new starters in their first game, would be great.


January 5th, 2012 at 9:03 AM ^

On the field, Michigan is back.  11-2 with a BCS win proved that, and a probable top ten finish in the polls is good enough for me.  

Off the field, though, Michigan never really left.  They are still the winningest program in college football history.  They still filled the Big House.  They still got tons of national media coverage, even if it was another "what's wrong with Michigan" story.  Most of their games were televised, either nationally or by the B1G Network.  

In other words, Michigan doesn't need to be "back."  Michigan is and was still Michigan.  And that is why teams like MSU, BSU, and KSU are still whining.  


January 5th, 2012 at 11:40 AM ^

The 2011 team was not any prior team and can't be compared to any prior team. 2012 will be a different team. What carries forward is the momentum from the past. Each season, each game, each play presents its own unique challenge. But as Michigan, we face each moment with the dignity and fortitude that comes with carrying forward the tradition, standards and honor that comes with the winged helmets.

We are not "back". We never went anywhere. We're Michigan, fergodsakes.


January 5th, 2012 at 3:52 PM ^

It is always good to see a scorecard and what everyone else thinks is important.

Clearly there are a lot of factors to consider.  For me, personally, I have most enjoyed the offseason when M has won a BCS bowl.  You had to have a great season to get to one and then you have won a neutral site game against top competion.  Bowl losses always leave me with a sour taste in the offseason.  We have only done this 7 times in the Bo+ era.

Winning the B1G is important, as is beating our 3 main rivals, Ohio, ND and State.  Final ranking very important as well.

Obviously 97 is the most awesome as we accomplished all of the above. 

After that, it is really how you rank the various factors.  I tend to think 80, 85, 88, 92 and 99 as all tied for next.  We had some flaws, but won the Rose/Orange and finished Top 5. 

This season comes in at the next tier down with a couple flaws and likely a Top 10ish finish. 

So for me, this is the 7th best season.

Go Blue!




January 6th, 2012 at 12:25 AM ^

Makes me feel important, haha. I like your modifications to it, and I think user "ChopBlock" had an interesting idea for giving fractional points for division co-championships or losing the B1G title game. I also think, if not being #1, an undefeated season deserves something extra - maybe a half point extra? Only other modification I'd suggest is, if we're going to include bowl games, they shouldn't be as important as the Ohio game - but more like the MSU game. I mean, if we'd lost to Ohio this year but won the Citrus Bowl for a ten-win season, I wouldn't be as happy as if we'd lost the Sugar Bowl this season. If we go 12-1 next season, would you rather that loss come against Ohio, or in the Rose Bowl? Bowl games also devalue some of the ten-year war, where we lost the games but still had phenomenal seasons. But overall, I like your modifications.

A couple of discrepancies jump out at me - shouldn't the 1997 season be a 4.5, and shouldn't 2011 be a 2.0? 1997: beat Sparty (0.5), Ohio(1) won the Big Ten(1) and the Rose Bowl (1) and finished #1 (1). 2011: beat Ohio (1) and win the Sugar (1). At a glance, 1988 and 1980 should also be 4.5s.

Overall, great work in compiling all this data from Bentley, and thanks for "The Vasav Score," haha.

EDIT: I also wonder, should 1990 and 1998 be included? While neither of those seasons resulted in a major bowl game, it was a different era, and we did win a share of the Big Ten title. The early 1970s saw some seasons where we won a share of the title but didn't head to a bowl game because of conference rules, and  1990 would register as a 2.0 season (not including the bowl win, since it wasn't BCS). 1998 scores a 1.0 in the BCS era. There needs to be a cutoff somewhere for sure, but I think any season that ends with a share of a Big Ten Title ought to be considered a great season, and especially that 1990 season that ended with a top ten ranking.


January 6th, 2012 at 10:49 AM ^

Now that we've added the "Vasav metric" to this list what we should really do is update it for all seasons since 1969 when Bo arrived.  In my first pass I sorted by BCS games and only focused on those, but now that we have a formula we should do all of them.  Maybe if I get bored at work this afternoon I will make that update. 

Also, as I mentioned elsewhere, I screwed up in my explanation.  My formula only gives 0.5 points for a bowl win, not 1.0.  I'll have to correct that. 


January 5th, 2012 at 11:21 PM ^

No, the sugar bowl was not a stellar performance for the wolverines, but as has been mentioned before, the only thing the voters really care about is whether or not you won. That being the case, I say we pass Wiscy, Virgina Tech, and the loser of the K-State Arkansas game to finish at #10. All those teams will have losses and we have 2. That's what matters most.


January 6th, 2012 at 12:00 AM ^

He's using AP rankings only - not BCS. And the writers already had the Hokies behind us. Looking at the AP, the only losers are LSU/Bama, Stanford, Ark/K-St, and Wiscy. I don't think it needs to be said that we won't be jumping the first three, which means at best we can hope to jump Wiscy and the loser of the Cotton Bowl - and our disrespected conference and less-than-stellar Sugar Bowl win makes me doubt we'd be able to jump Arkansas. I'm not sure if we'll even jump Wiscy - they did just hang tough with the #5 team in the country They'll fall behind Sparty for sure, but not sure if they fall behind us.

As a side note, I'm happy Oregon will finish higher than Stanford - Stanford does not deserve to be ranked higher. Yes, Oregon has two losses, and lost by three to a USC team Stanford beat. However, Oregon won the division and the conference, and by the way beat Stanford by 3 touchdowns. Oregon's only other loss was by 13 to the #1 team in the country, and while the game wasn't a nail-biter, it wasn't exactly Clemson-WVU either - they hung as tough as we did against Sparty, and they deserve a higher ranking.