Over the course of the season there are three key factors that drive the success or failure of a football team:
On a game by game basis you can throw in variance/strategy/luck. It’s pretty tough for a high variance strategy to pay out over the long term but for a particular game playing high variance could be the right decision. Teams like Boise State have found success mostly on execution. Oregon and other non-traditional powers have used offensive systems to drive success. The ones who have done it with talent are easy to spot because that’s where the big-time programs all start.
It would have been unrealistic for Michigan to expect Saturday to be a victory on execution over a Nick Saban coached team. Al Borges was apparently comfortable not pushing any system/variance strategies with his choice of play calling (unless you consider the deep balls his way of playing high variance). That left the major gap between Michigan and Alabama to come down to talent. Michigan and Alabama both have storied histories and bright futures for their football teams, but their current rosters are at very different points.
Here is a look at how Michigan’s roster stacks up to the Big Ten and its non-conference opponents. Methodology here
|Penn St||2,267||Air Force||126|
Michigan certainly has an enviable roster for most of the country, but attrition and recruiting gaps have left the upper-classes of the roster well below the nation’s elite programs. In fact, the gap between Michigan and Alabama is essentially the same as between Michigan and Minnesota. With Michigan not willing (system/variance) or able (execution) to push the other levers, the talent lever came through in full force.
The good news is that there isn’t a team left on the schedule that can do that to Michigan on talent alone. Holding serve on talent puts Michigan at 9-3 and Legends division champs and potentially favored in the B1G Title Game. The talent gap can give and it can take away. Obviously talent is never a guarantee (ask Texas) but with good coaching, Michigan’s talent should put them in a position to be a competitive or win every game remaining on the schedule. The defense seems positioned to possibly pick up some advantage from coaching, and until the full tenants of the passing attack are in place, the offense will likely be middle of the course to slightly above, depending on how the Denard is deployed.
Barring major attrition issues, Michigan will start to move up the talent list over the next several years. I project them to reach current Ohio/ND range in time for the 2014 and potentially hitting the upper echelons when the current freshman enter their senior season. Until that happens, Michigan will either need to be content to see results like they did on Saturday or find different ways to gain advantages over the next two seasons.
Game scores (1st half only)
Denard Robinson: 18 plays, -1.2 EV (points added), -8% WPA (win pct added)
Thomas Rawls: 4 plays, -0.3, -1%
Vincent Smith: 9 plays, -2.0, -1.5%
AJ McCarron: 16 plays, +6.7, +12%
Eddie Lacy: 8 plays, +3.4, +4%
TJ Yeldon: 5 plays, +4.4, +7%
Air Force isn’t charted from its week 1 win against an FCS team, but it plenty efficient, scoring TD’s on 4 of 6 first half drives, with one killed by a 15 yard penalty. The defense pitched a first half shutout but did allow 3 of 5 drives into Falcon territory. My preseason rankings installed Michigan as a nearly three touchdown favorite and I have no reason to think expectations have changed substantially.
Michigan 31 Air Force 10, 98% chance of victory