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.)
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.