Reading the Tea Leaves, 2012 Midseason Edition

Submitted by Eye of the Tiger on October 16th, 2012 at 4:50 PM

Before the season began, I read some tea leaves, and came up with the following, Star Wars-themed probabilities for how we’d do in the regular season:


1. The Empire Strikes Back (12-0; p = .01)

2. A New Hope (11-1; p = .19)

3. Return of the Jedi (10-2; p = .29)

4. Revenge of the Sith (9-3; p = .31)

5. Attack of the Clones (8-4; p = .19)

6. The Phantom Menace (7-5; p = .01)


Though they were always a bit unlikely, Episodes V and IV are sadly now off the table. As a result, I have to redistribute the probabilities, as I did last year at midseason. Unlike last year, though, I have to redistribute down, rather than up. But hope is not lost! The Big 10 kinda sucks this year, or more accurately is very mediocre. That means all of our upcoming opponents, aside from Ohio, range from worse-than-expected (Sparty, Nebraska) to better-than-expected-given-that-not-much-was-expected (Northwestern, Iowa) all the way to better-than-expected-given-that-basically-nothing-was-expected (Minnesota).  Hardly a murderer’s row.


Consequently, there’s only one game where I figure we’re more likely to lose than win, and four others we “could” lose but shouldn’t. If I make that into a simple algorithm, where a “near-lock” (Minnesota) gets 1.00, a “should win” gets 0.67 (Sparty, Nebraska, Northwestern, Iowa) and a “can win” (Ohio) gets 0.33, we get this:


(1.00 + 4(.67) + 0.33) = 4.01


Translated, that predicts a 4-2 record over our last 6 games, and an 8-4 record overall. It’s easy to see how this would happen: a loss away at Ohio plus one more unforeseen loss, such as a fifth straight against Sparty, another road stinker at Nebraska or a “looked-past” Iowa or Northwestern. Incidentally, this is exactly the same number of wins the Mathlete predicts. I’m moderately more bullish than that, though, and think we’ll do better. Here’s why:


1. Our defense is not the same one that took the field during the first two weeks

2. Our offense seems to have returned to late-2011 form

3. One of our losses, to a consensus top-10 team, happened because of a turnover and penalty fest that’s unlikely to be replicated.

4. Our other loss was to consensus number 1 Alabama, and we don’t play anyone even remotely that good again in the regular season.

5. Of our 5 remaining “losable” games, 3 are at home, and 1 of the others is against Nebraska, who didn’t match up well against us last year, and don’t seem all that different this time around.


To put it another way, I still think a 5+ loss season is unlikely, and relatively less likely than a 3 or even 2 loss season. Unfortunately, given our penchant for an occasional offensive identity crisis, that 4-loss scenario is hard to argue against. So without further ado, I present to you the revised predictions, Indiana Jones-themed this time:


The Scenarios


1. Raiders of the Lost Ark









Scenario: We kick Nazi ass. We search for—and find—ancient relics. We close our eyes as the blinding light of truth and justice melts the egos and arrogance of our enemies.


Record: 10-2. We run the table. We win the Big 10 Championship. We play in the Rose Bowl. We are possibly good enough to beat whomever we play in the Rose Bowl. We finish the season with our heads held high. Denard goes out like the hero he is.


Probability: (p = .20).  Not likely but not outside the realm of possibility either. Is Ohio really that good? Color me skeptical. That defense had a rough go of it against Indiana, and a pretty rough go of it against Nebraska too. The offense can score points, but hey…so can we! Unfortunately the game’s away, and we haven’t won in Columbus since 2000. Still, I wouldn’t exactly be shocked if we did win. And there isn’t a single other team on our schedule that scares me. The worry there is more about numbers.


2. The Last Crusade

Scenario: We reunite with our Dad, who did this a lot in the olden days.  It’s tough realizing we are our father’s sons, but in the end we realize it’s just who we are, and the old man has a lot he can teach us. But we’ll never stop trying to be better than he was. Never.


Record: 9-3. We kick a lot of ass, but stumble somewhere along the way, probably but not necessarily at Ohio. Depending on who we lose to, and how other teams do in conference play, it’s still probably good enough to go to the Big 10 Championship Game, which we would probably win. That means Rose Bowl, though in this scenario we’d go in with a lower ranking and lower probability of winning it.


Probability: (p = .30). I’ve got a gut feeling this is it. Even though the Big 10 is deeply mediocre this year, it’s also deep with peskiness. Iowa and Northwestern, for example. A fired up Sparty has that potential too, though


3. The Temple of Doom

Scenario: We end up in a chaotic place where evil ones eat monkey brains and pull the hearts out of still-living captives. We make it out alive.


Record: 8-4. Racist stereotyping aside, this was an okay film. Rephrased, we could say an 8-4 season is “adequate but problematic.” That’s a good way to describe a scenario in which we lose 2 of the 5 losable games (probably at Ohio plus one we-should-have-taken-them loss), but still get to a decent bowl game.  Maybe this year it’s even good enough to get to the conference championship, and a clear path to the Rose Bowl (where we’d get to play any one of the several Pac-12 teams that are currently ranked higher than we are). It would also be a disappointing, but not too disappointing, end to the whole spread-option experiment..


Probability: (p = .40). This is what the math and the Mathlete think is going to happen. It’s probably the most rational prediction at this point, given our high-ish ceiling in a mediocre conference, but also our occasional, sometimes-inexplicable regression to the mean. If you are a betting man/woman, and like to make your bets cautiously, put your money here.


4. Kingdom of the Crystal Skull

Scenario: FAIL.


Record: 7-5 or worse.  We lose 3 or more of the 5 losable games—keeping in mind that 3 of those 5 teams are not very good. Ergo, we are not very good.


Probability: (p = .10). While I probably won’t be as angry with 5 losses as I was when I saw this “film,” I might be if we go 6-6. I don’t really see that happening, but it’s more realistic than it seemed at pre-season. I just don’t see it unless we have some catastrophic injuries or a hurricane parks over the state of Michigan for the next 45 days.


Gee, That’s A Weird Distribution


Yes it is. I struggled with the way it skews, but in the end feel it’s justified. Why? Because the only game on our schedule I see us potentially losing even with a clean game, healthy roster, normal conditions and appropriate offensive gameplan is the showdown with Ohio.* The others would all necessitate disastrous penalties, a major injury, another trash tornado and/or another game in which Al Borges and Denard inexplicably come to believe that Denard is Brett Favre the Gunslinger only to find he’s the wrong kind of Brett Favre the Gunslinger.  Thankfully those moments of delusion seem to only happen on the road—and sometimes, like Notre Dame 2011, he really does look a bit like the good Brett Favre.


Simply put, my instinct says we go 9-3 but the rational part of my brain says 8-4. The semi-rational fan in me says 10-2. The amygdala, where fear impulses come from, says 7-5 or worse, but we don’t listen to it and neither should you.


*That isn’t to say we will lose to Ohio, or that it will happen this way, just that I can picture it in a sort of last-year-but-opposite kind of way. 





October 16th, 2012 at 5:16 PM ^

Nicely done. One thing though I'm not sure that the probability would go down in our hypothetical Rosé Bowl game (caveat caveat not saying we will make it there this State game is the most important thing ever) if we finish regular season 10-2 vs. 9-3.

As long as the team makes each game an independent event (ie prepare only for the next game) then I think we'll do fine.

Smash Lampjaw

October 16th, 2012 at 5:42 PM ^

I am not sure that it ought to be the end just yet. For my money, Devin switches back to qb, and they spend another year transitioning. Especially with the mono thing ending the senior season for Shane.


October 16th, 2012 at 9:32 PM ^

I'm a little surprised that you are so confident that UM "should" beat night.

I fully expect two more losses for UM , @Nebraska and @OSU, and will be pleasantly surprised if they win either of those games. That still might be good enough for UM to make it to the B1G championship game though provided Nebraska loses two other conference games which is a distinct possibility.

Eye of the Tiger

October 17th, 2012 at 10:00 AM ^

I thought this harder than it does now. At the end of the day, I just don't think Nebraska is very good, and think it's a relatively good matchup for us, in terms of how their offense and defense fit into our strengths and weaknesses. I doubt it will be as lopsided as last year, but if we play a clean game in normal weather conditions, I'm pretty sure we take this one. 

Obviously we could lose as well. That's why I mark it as "should" and rate our chances of winning at .67. 


October 16th, 2012 at 8:55 PM ^

Honestly, I think we are better than every team left on our schedule, including OSU.  Sure, OSU is dangerous on offense, but their D has actually regressed from last year (a year in which our offense torched them).  I can't see them keeping up, since we actually have a defense.

That being said, it's entirely possible we lose one or two games.  The two most likely losses are Nebraska and OSU.  I still get nervous every time this team plays on the road.  Denard could always have another ND-esque game.  If he doesn't, watch out, we go 10-2.


October 16th, 2012 at 9:12 PM ^

If that loss isn't to Ohio I see this team pulling together in a big way and playing their best game in Columbus and winning that one anyway.  I think Notre Dame kinda woke everyone up, whether they'll admit it or not.

Offensively we're going to run at oppenents with our QB, slot ninja and RB until you make us do something different; like throw jump balls to our 6' 5" tight end...  I expect this will be enough against any team on our schedule since none of them have both a competent defense (Sparty, Iowa) and a competent offense (Ohio, Northwestern).

On defense MATTISON WILL BREAK YOU AND JAKE RYAN IN HIS TOOL and YOU CAN'T JUST GO SOMEWHERE ELSE BECAUSE THAT'S COVERED TOO!!!  mwhahahahahaha!!!!  Actually I don't know if we'll really figure out how good/bad this defense is until Northwestern and/or Ohio...  So they'll look like doombringers even if they're merely excellent, but I can live with that.

I think 9-3 is the most likely, even though the maths don't agree.  10-2 seems impossibly lucky and I don't see it happening (sadly).  8-4 seems very down, but IF we lose before Columbus I'll probably admit it as likely, rather than merely possible.  Go Blue!


October 16th, 2012 at 11:44 PM ^

i feel more confident about our remaining games now, with our two pre-conference losses, than i would if we'd had osu's preseason schedule and were undefeated and top 5 bcs. the perception is that we're a fringe top-25 team, but i think we're actually a stronger team than that hypothetical undefeated top5 team.


October 17th, 2012 at 10:44 AM ^

Your losses were against vastly better teams than ours, but our wins were against much better teams.

The game being in Lincoln and at night gives the Huskers an advantage, but the Wolverines do have a conference road victory....although Purdue with empty seats is no Nebraska.

Good mobile qb's seem to give us (and everyone) fits, and Denard is a great mobile qb. But we aren't winning games with our defense anyway, and our offense is second to none in the conference---when not shooting ourselves in the foot with turnovers and penalties.

I think it will be a close, exciting game between two good, not great teams, and will determine the Legends winner (provided we both win this Saturday). Nebraska, 34-31.

Eye of the Tiger

October 17th, 2012 at 3:08 PM ^

Playing at home and at night is a serious advantage for you guys. No doubt about that. But I don't think we're a good matchup for you. Your defense struggled mightily with Braxton Miller and the Ohio offense, and of the teams you've played, they have the closest offense to ours. You also struggled mightily against us last year, and we've got most of the same personnel back again. 

Will playing at home mitigate that? To a degree, yes. But I think your defense is better suited to the bruisers like Wisconsin than spread-option teams like Michigan and Ohio, which both feature top-flight mobile quarterbacks. We're going to get a lot of yards, and if we don't shoot ourselves in the foot, as we did against Notre Dame, we're going to put up a bunch of points. 

On the other side of the ball, I expect you guys to do better against us this year than last. Our defense has improved a lot over the course of the season, but we still don't quite have the inside penetration from the DL that we did a year ago, and that was key to stuffing your run game. However, our LBs are better than they were a year ago, which also means we're better at edge contain. Still, I expect to give up more points than in 2011, which will make this a tight one. 

I figure we win, but I wouldn't be shocked if we lost.