You can’t count on more progress from the offense
Michigan is not going to get much better on offense. They can reduce turnovers, they can improve in the Red Zone, they can find a back who can reduce the load on Denard. All of these things can and hopefully will happen. But after two years of making the Rodriguez leap, this team is pretty close to the ceiling offensively. There are no more leaps to be made. Any progress at this point is incremental as this team already sits on good end of the bell curve, 2.5 standard deviations above the average team.
In 2008 Michigan was –5 PAN and ranked 102nd in the country in offense. Last year leap #1 happened Michigan jumped to +3 and 38th in the country offensively. This year the team has made an even bigger leap and is currently at +13 and second only to Auburn among all FBS offenses. Prior to this year, here are the offenses in AQ conferences that have exceeded +13:
Oklahoma 2008, +16
Florida 2007, +17
USC 2005, +16
Texas 2005, +14
Four teams from 2003-2009 did better offensively than Michigan has done this year. The offense will hopefully be a slightly more polished version of what you see right now. Another leap would mean a once in a decade offense, don’t think we can count on that.
So if we are going to progress, all the change is going to have to come from the defense. The goal is obviously to have a shut down defense to go with a can’t be shut down offense, but there is little chance of the defense turning around that quickly next year. For comparison I found three teams that had best in class offenses and average defenses (not good, not bad) and this is what I found.
The Test Cases
Florida 2007, +17 Off, –0 Def
West Virginia 2006, +13 Off, –0 Def
Auburn 2010, +14 Off, +0 Def
Florida 2007 lost three SEC games and eventually to Michigan in the Citrus Bowl. Those four losses were by an average of 6 points. It was good enough to get the Tebow Child his Heisman but going 2-4 in close games was the difference between the season being good and truly great.
With Rodriguez at the helm the 2006 Mountaineers went 11-2. This was the year that the Big East was good. Louisville had yet to be Kragthorped and beat West Virginia and South Florida upset West Virginia as the only team to hold the Mountaineers below 27 points.
Auburn still has 3-4 big games left and we may not know how this one is going to end depending on how Newton-gate ends. But at the current pace, Auburn is providing the best case that an exceptional offense and can keep you in the title hunt into November.
How plausible is a strong defensive improvement
This question obviously depends on who’s coaching the defense, does the system change, if it does is that a good or bad thing, how do the young players progress, how does Angry Michigan <Blank> Hating God fill in the blank and many other questions.
From 2003-2009 69 teams have been –6 or worse on defense. 59 of those improved the next year (law of averages, yo) and 17 or about 25% moved all the way up to the test case range –1 or better. The average team improved about 4 points.
Based on the amount of talent returning next year and the youth on this squad, a jump of 4 points would seem to be the minimum. Michigan road to average is starting at –8 right now. Strong showings in the last four games could improve that number slightly but nine games in the number isn’t changing that much. I would say the 25% chance of getting back to average seems about right. This defense should at least progress to 2009 levels (yeah?) and will have a shot at the average defense that would likely lead to New Year’s Day at the bare minimum.
An offense at this level plus an average defense in the Big Ten will probably mean at least ten wins. If the defense makes an average bad defense improvement, it will probably be more like 9 wins. If the defense can make a strong leap (entirely possible) to positive territory, Michigan could be a couple good breaks away from where Auburn is at right now. Let’s just hope somebody didn’t hear from somebody’s sister that Denard was asking Danny Hope to get paid.