Reading the Tea Leaves: Midseason Edition

Submitted by Eye of the Tiger on October 9th, 2011 at 6:35 PM

As you may or may not recall, last May I read some tea leaves, hoping to figure out what our likely record in 2011 would be.  Given that we’re halfway through the regular season, I think it’s time to reassess and adjust these predictions.  Certainly there’s reason for wide-eyed enthusiasm—the statisticians confirm the plausibility of that here and here.  But is it time to break out the Kool-Aid?  Let’s start by looking back to what seemed plausible in May…

At the time, I outlined four likely scenarios:

1. An overachieving 10-2 or really good 9-3.  Odds: 9/1

2. A solid if unspectacular 9-3 or 8-4.  Odds: 6/5

3. A dreary, mediocre 7-5 or 6-6.  Odds: 9/5

4. A depressing regression to 5-7.  Odds: 9/1

These outlined scenarios and their relative probability were based on: a) a lingering if not outright stated sense that we wouldn’t get to East Lansing undefeated; b) the predicted strength of our opponents; c) widely-held perceptions of our talent level on both sides of the ball; and d) a sense that the coaching change would help us upgrade from historically badto averageon defense, but probably downgrade from sensational-if-inconsistentto above-average-but-still-inconsistent on offense. 


Changes by Midseason

A) We made it to East Lansing undefeated.  We came back to beat a good Notre Dame team, dispatched solid WMU and SDSU teams, suffocated a mediocre-to-bad EMU team, depantsed a worse Minnesota team and then strangled a talented but inconsistent Northwestern team. 

B) Many of our upcoming opponents look weaker than they did back in May.  I’m looking at you, Nebraska and Ohio: you looked scary at the time, but now you look flawed and very beatable.  Iowa looked questionable even then (especially considering we played them close in 2009 and 2010, when they were clearly better than us), but I’d say they look even weaker now.  MSU, by contrast, looks worse on offense but better on defense than they did in May…a push, I guess.  The only team that looks more challenging than they did in the off-season is Illinois.  While you can still lose on any given Saturday (aside from when you play Minnesota), these developments generally bode well for our prospects. 

C) While our 2010 defense didn’t, after 6 games, look quite the epic FAIL it would embody after 13, at least some of that was psychedelically bad position coaching.  Turns out we've got more talent on that side than we thought!  Starters Kovacs, Thomas Gordon, JT Floyd, Demens, Martin, RVB and Roh have all come on.  Even Big Will Campbell, the biggest bust of the past 3 years, is showing some of what made him a top prospect.  Add to that some breakout freshmen performances from Countess and Ryan, and we look…not exactly Alabama 2, but at least somewhat talented.  Plus we suddenly have depth at cornerback, safety and on the D-line.  This feels weird.  Over on the other side of the ball, we look much like we did last year, talent-wise, only now with tailbacks! 

D) Comparing the first six games of 2011 to their equivalents in 2010 only, we appear to have upgraded from bad-but-not-yet-historically-bad to solid-with-occasional-flashes-of-historical-Michigan-quality on defense.   This is better than expected.  On offense, we’ve gone from sensational-if-inconsistent to moderately-less-sensational-but-surprisingly-consistent-in-second-halves.  While we do lose something in stats, this is arguably a more functional and sustainable approach.  Regardless, it's also a better-than-expected short-term outcome.  But don’t trust my word: take a look at this chart, comparing 6 games in 2010 to our first 6 in 2011.  I exchanged MSU 2010 for PSU 2010 for two reasons: because we play MSU next week, and because, while very different, PSU 2010 and Northwestern 2011 were both middling opponents that, generally speaking, were only really good on one side of the ball, and both games were played away. 

Table 1: 6 Games in 2010







at Notre Dame






Bowling Green






at Penn State










Table 2: 6 Games in 2011







Notre Dame












at Nwestern









As you can see, while our 2011 defense is allowing 15.5 fewer points/game than in equivalent games last year, our offense is only down 1.7 points/game versus last year. Moreover, through these six games in 2010 we were scoring, on average, 11.7 more than we allowed; in 2011, by contrast, we’ve scored a whopping average of 25.5 more than we’ve allowed.  

Of course, in the remaining 7 games of 2010, the wheels came off the bus.  Substituting MSU for PSU (for the aforementioned reason of comparability), we averaged 26.9 points/game and allowed 41.4 points/game.  That means, in those 7 games, we averaged 67% of the points we were scoring early on, and allowed, on average, 148% of the points we allowed on defense.  If we were to decline at the same rate this year, we would still average 25.7 points/game and allow only 18.5 points/game.  Boo-ya!


New Improved Models

Given all these wonderful developments, it’s time to adjust the off-season predictions.  Since we’ve already won 6 games, we can now outright reject scenario #4. Though still a remote possibility, an 11+ win season is no longer unthinkable.  So here are the new models and how likely I think they are to occur:


1. Great Blue-Dini flavored Kool-Aid for breakfast! 

Scenario: the improvement we see is no mirage.  Our defense isn’t just solid; it’s good.  Our offense stays prolific and Denard stops throwing to Tacopants and Tacopants’s brother, who happens to play for all of our opponents.

Record: 11-1 or better. We dispose of Purdue and Iowa, and beat at least 3 out of MSU, Illinois, Nebraska and Ohio, so that we get Wisconsin in the Big 10 Championship Game.   Though we probably don’t win it, we might actually be able to.  We end up in the Rose Bowl or another suitably prestigious bowl game, and everyone but the most diehard RR loyalists (and Hoke) are happy. 

Odds: 9/1.  This is plausible now, but it’s still not likely.  At least some early success will evaporate as we hit the harder portion of our schedule, and at some point, Denard’s interceptions and/or our defense’s frequent slow starts will cause trouble that our second half adjustments will struggle to bail us out of. 


2. Bring it on, SEC team that won a lot of games but lost to LSU or Alabama/the one of Oregon or Stanford that lost to the other!

Scenario: basically the same as Great Blue-Dini, only we have an extra bad day or two  We do most things right, regardless, and overall the team shows strong improvement over last year. 

Record: 10-2 or a really good 9-3.  We have a chance to play Wisconsin in the Big 10 Championship Game, but more likely we end up in the Capital One Bowl or equivalent. 

Odds: 8-5.  The likelihood of this panning out has greatly increased, from 9-1 odds in May to 8-5 odds today.  Still not the most likely scenario, but it's now it's an idea that can be taken seriously.  We’re a lot closer to it than it once looked like we’d be. 


3. Okay fine, so we’re not quite ready for the losers of Alabama/LSU or Oregon/Stanford, but we’ll take another ranked team and maybe even beat them, thank you very much!

Scenario: we regress, the same way we have the last 2 years. While there’s improvement over 2010, it’s more marginal than most of us now expect.

Record: a less convincing 9-3, or 8-4.  We lose to MSU and at least 2 of Illinois, Nebraska and Ohio.  Meh, I can live with it, and I might even grudgingly admit it makes me happy to be back in normal Michigan win/loss territory...but where's the romance in 9-3, let alone 8-4?  

Odds: 7-5.  This was the most likely scenario back in May, and, despite all the improvements, I think it still is.  HOWEVA, the marginal reduction in the odds of this happening has gone in favor of happier outcomes.  Plus we’re one big win away (over a really annoying bratty sibling) from the odds tipping to scenario #2.  That’s all good.  


4. I’ve got you in my sights, unranked 4th place finisher in the SEC West!

Scenario: total meltdown from this point forward.

Record: 7-5 or 6-6.  As in 2009 and 2010, we bomb in the second half of the season, winning 1 or fewer of our remaining games. 

Odds: 10-1.  This is not so likely anymore, but then again, we already played Minnesota, and no remaining opponent is 100% beatable.  Some bad luck and injuries, plus better opposing defenses, could hurt us like they did the last two years.  It’s still the least likely scenario, though: we already have 6 wins, and given our vast improvements on defense, we should at least be able to beat Iowa and Purdue.   


Parting Notes

So there you have it.  The curve has moved, and in favor of good, just and holy things, like a 10+ win season!  That said, I’m putting the Kool-Aid back in the freezer for another week.  But if we win this one, I’m busting it out and spiking it with something.  



October 9th, 2011 at 6:59 PM ^

It all comes down to the State game.  If we win that, then I think a very good 9-3, and more likely, 10-2 is what will happen.  Lose to MSU, and I think 8-4, with a possibility of 9-3.  If we beat state, I think we go into the Nebraska game with the winner cliniching the Legends division.


October 10th, 2011 at 1:22 AM ^

I respectfully disagree with the line of thinking that goes "if we beat MSU, we'll win 10+ games, but if don't beat MSU, we'll win 8 or fewer games." 

The MSU game is one game.  If we win, great--but it doesn't mean a thing for the rest of our opponents.  If we lose, I nonetheless expect the team to regroup and be ready for the next opponent.  Experienced teams with good veteran leadership--which I think we now have--don't go into unrecoverable tailspins just because they lose one game, even if it is to an in-state rival.


October 10th, 2011 at 9:29 AM ^

Let's be honest, between Illinois, MSU, tSIO, and Nebraska - who is the best team?  I'd argue it's most likely MSU. Illinois is teetering on undefeated due to 2 come from behind wins. tSIO lacks any semblance of an offense, and the one guy who can possibly throw the ball has an ankle injury (tell him how that goes Troy). Nebraska's typically "stingy" defense has been exposed on multiple occasions now and Martinez is not the Heisman candidate those in Lincoln were predicting.

Who does that leave? MSU. MSU got beat by a ND team that didn't turn the ball over 5 times, in South Bend. Outside of that, they have a great defense and 3 very capable playmakers on offense (QB/RB/WR). Their O-line isn't the greatest, but come on, neither was NW's and it took a full half to get any pressure on Persa.

Bottom line is that MSU is probably the most difficult team left on our schedule. If we lose this game, I think we'd look back at the end of the season and say, "yeah, but MSU was a pretty solid team."


October 9th, 2011 at 7:19 PM ^

of the season and season predictions as a whole, the MSU game will be very telling.

Seriously though, winning on the road at NU wasn't easy and boith our offense and defense struggled at times.  We came out on top and both sides of the ball made the necessary adjustments.

Going to EL will be all together different.  This is their Super Bowl, this is what Dantonio points to all season long.  Beating Michigan is their end-all be-all.

We cannot have three interceptions and give up 24 points in the first half and be successful next Saturday.  If our defense is more stout in the first half and Denard does a better job of taking care of the ball, things should go very well Saturday.

The MSU game is the key to our season.  We win and then10-2 or dare I say 12-0 is possible.  Lose and 8-4 is much more likely.  Michigan can beat every team on its schedule.  I didn't think that back in May or even mid-way thru Sept.  If Michigan beats MSU then, I believe 9-3 is an absolute certainty and 11-1 is resonable.  12-0 is doable, but I'll believe that when we're 11-0.

Purdue and Iowa are the most winnable and MSU and either OSU or Nebraska are the toughest.  Illinois is mistake prone and I think very beatable.


October 9th, 2011 at 10:37 PM ^

You'll always give them the advantage in the game?

You must be young. For years, Michigan didn't take MSU as seriously as MSU took Michigan, and we still beat the crap out of them.  The problem over the last 3 years wasn't the absence of countdown clocks.  The problem was a lack of being good.


October 10th, 2011 at 10:08 AM ^

According to MSU's website they do not have any tickets available for the game this weekend.  Also if you look at stubhub there are only 696 tickets for sale and 144 of those tickets are for $400 and over, unlikely to be sold.  Even if Michigan fans buy up every ticket available your idea of a homecoming in EL is highly unlikely.  Sparty views us as their biggest rival and a win for them makes their season.  I think it is safe to expect a loud, drunk, and overly green crowd at the game Saturday.  Michigan 31 Sparty 17.


October 10th, 2011 at 10:38 AM ^

The reason they couldnt sellout that last game is becasue it wasnt Michigan or Notre Dame.  Tickets are going for at least $150 on stubhud right now.  This sin't going to be like taking over Munn.  This game is their season still to man of their fans,


October 9th, 2011 at 7:33 PM ^

I agree with a lot of what you estimate and also the above post that beating MSU will help determine what the outcome of our season will be.

On an aside, let me get this part straight:

1. We all know about Tacopants

2. Now we know that Tacopants has a younger brother, who our quarterbacks like to throw to and who (inexplicably) players for the opposing team.

3. I think Tacopants has another younger brother who is named Underpants. He is only eleven inches tall and has a very annoying tendency to stand several feet in front of our receivers.  Although Tacopants is the more eye-catching to QBs, if a QB sees Underpants they sometimes like to throw it to him too.

oriental andrew

October 9th, 2011 at 8:18 PM ^

One other thing to consider in terms of 2011 Defense vs. 2010 Defense - Michigan has held every 2011 opponent below their scoring average, while the 2010 edition allowed UMass, Indiana, and Penn State to eclipse their season averages by 10.45, 7.83, and 16.46 points, respectively.  On the other hand, notre dame (-1.33) and Northwestern (-3.80) came closest to their 2011 scoring averages.  Every other team was held at least 2 TD's below their season averages.  This is huge and a source of confidence for me, at least.   OSA = Opponent Scoring Average, based on the NCAA stats database.


Opponent PF PA OSA Differential
UCONN 30 10 26.38 -16.38
at Notre Dame 28 24 26.31 -2.31
UMASS 42 37 26.55 10.45
Bowling Green 65 21 21.25 -0.25
Indiana 42 35 27.17 7.83
at Penn State 31 41 24.54 16.46


PF PA OSA Differential
WMU 34 10 37 -27
Notre Dame 35 31 32.33 -1.33
EMU 31 3 18.5 -15.5
SDSU 28 7 27 -20
Minnesota 58 0 18 -18
at Nwestern 42 24

27.8 -3.8



October 9th, 2011 at 11:31 PM ^

Great addition - well done to both of you.  I have ruled out major regression - this team is different and the defense is without question a much better unit.  Hoke and company will not let them have a major slide, and I even could see 8-4/9-3 if Denard was injured.

There aren't any games that scare me beyond Saturday, simply because the thought of losing to little bro again is unbearable.  But, I think we would all agree running the table is difficult - we will have a game or two with a negative turnover margin that is too much to overcome.

But that added chart is to me is the key.  Holding  teams to less than they have been scoring is a huge difference from last year.  Mattison for President! 


October 9th, 2011 at 8:38 PM ^

I assume for now we are not considering the B1G championship game or a bowl game, and we're just looking at regular season wins and losses.

My best guesses:

11+ wins: 20%

10 wins: 31%

9 wins: 37%

8 wins (or less): 12%

Purdue and Iowa should very likely be wins, that means one win amongst MSU, Illinois, Nebraska, and OSU would get us to 9 wins.


October 9th, 2011 at 9:07 PM ^

a team that isn't as manic as those of the last few years (reading the summaries of Bacon's book, we get some glimpses why). That alone gives me greater hope that we prevail in most of the games to come--a loss to MSU will not cause this team to stop taking care of business. We are indisputably on the rise. 

Beyond that, rest of this season. who the heck knows. I like our odds in every game after MSU, with MSU something of a wash (will give me incredible pleasure if we can deflate Dantonio right after his raise).

Wisky is a very good team, from the glimpses I have had, and I am with those who think that a good showing by them in the NC game could be very helpful for the conference. 


October 9th, 2011 at 11:02 PM ^

The outcome of this season, IMHO, hinges on our success against MSU. If we beat lil bro it will show me that Hoke, Borges, and Mattison are keeping this team focused for each and every game and my expectations would be raised for the season. Also if we make it to Indy it's because we belong there and have as good of a chance as anyone. We're Michigan fergodsakes!


October 9th, 2011 at 11:55 PM ^

If we beat the Spartans on Saturday then this team will be on a major role.  I don't see any dominate team in the Legends division. I have downgraded NE and OSU to toss ups, and even a good chance to beat OSU at home.  I have upgraded IL to a toss up but have down graded IA to winnable. The MSU and NE games will be our toughest games and we have an equal chance of defeating both teams. IL may be our second toughest road game and IA is starting to look like a sure win!  Hoke may just have the Bo winning swagger for his first season at Michigan. Some coaches just have leadership and motivational skills to win games, even if the opponent may be more talented. We'll see what happens but I'm feeling confident about Hoke ability to win big games!


October 10th, 2011 at 12:46 AM ^

scenario's #1 or #2 with this coaching staff than I ever did with the previous one.  What Hoke/Mattison have done with pretty much the same peronnel from last year  is nothing short of amazing.

Gorgeous Borges

October 10th, 2011 at 2:20 AM ^

Also, Northwestern is even more impressive in light of the fact that the Northwestern OSA is dragged down by the absence of Persa in their first few games. Not only did we beat the OSA; we beat it even though they had Persa in against us for the whole game after him not playing the first three games of the season.

At what point can we decide that the 'bend but not break' defense is not a statistical anomaly? I saw the defense give up a lot of yards last night but not as many points. I saw the defense force and create turnovers from a team that doesn't normally give them away. I also saw us get those turnovers against San Diego State, forcing fumbles from guys that don't normally give them up. When is the sample size large enough that we can count on the fact that this team is good at forcing turnovers, good at scoring defense in the second half, and especially good in the red zone?


October 10th, 2011 at 8:23 AM ^

The only quibble I have is that through 6 games this year we are averaging more points per game not less, obviously it is because you flipped Penn State for MSU, but I think to say that we are moderately less sensational on offense and that points per game are less, is artificial because of your choice of swapping PSU. 

Second, we only played three quarters against Western.  Given our performances in the second half, the offense could've, should've, would've put up more points against Western in the 4th quarter.

Also, a differenct coaching style, we beat Bowling Green with 65 points in 2010.  When you have more confidence in your defense and a bigger lead, then it is more likely you are playing more subs, and doing the honorable thing by ending the game early.  With our defense last year, everypoint we scored mattered.  If that's less sensational, I'll take it.  We seem to possess the ball longer this year (would be curious to see this stat - Time of Possession Average), and that may be part of why you suggest marginally less sensational which I'll agree, but for points scored perspective, I think we are right there with last year (no real differenc either way). 

Clearly, from your analysis the key is the margin of victory.  And, this week will really tell us a whole lot about where we stand.  I think MSU is the team that is most similar to where they were last year.  We did have the unfortunate schedule last year of playing 5 ranked teams to end the season, so no matter how we finish record wise - it won't necessarily be comparable to last year; would be great to see us play Wisconsin in the BTC game.

Go Blue!




October 10th, 2011 at 9:50 AM ^

during the NW game was Hoke's reactions after the interceptions. He's simply not too emotional over ups and downs during the game. It's about making adjustments. No yelling, no headset stomping, just a few moments of WTF and onto making adjustments. That seems to be the biggest change on the sidelines from last year.