Defensive Rankings

Submitted by Ziff72 on December 23rd, 2010 at 10:09 AM

The doom and gloom on this board regarding our defense moving forward always frustrates me so I looked at some of the stats this year.   This took about 5 minutes and I was able to pull multiple examples. These are the Total Defense rankings for several teams from 09 and 10. 



Team 2009 2010 Change
Stanford 90 23 67
Arkansas 89 33 56
Illinois 92 37 55
Tex A&M 105 51 54
Hawaii 91 37 54
Louisville 65 14 51
Michigan St 73 31


I didn't examine all their rosters, but I think these are great teams to look at because we can reasonably determine that they don't have a great raw talent advantage over Michigan.  So with comparable talent these teams all made great strides in just 1 year.  So what are the arguments against improvement and why we will continue to suck.

1. Returning starters-Well maybe those other teams had a ton of returning starters.  Well Michigan returns 9 so it's mathematically impossible to return  much more.

2. New coordinator-While it's true more of these teams did get new coordinators, there were also ones that stayed the course.

3. Injuries- Maybe these teams had key guys out for much of the season.   That is probably a safe assumption, but isn't  it also reasonable to assume Michigan was not at least in the middle of the pack considering our best player missed time and played at much less than 100% for half the season, our best DB missed the whole season, the #2 DB missed almost half the season.

4. Youth- Maybe those other teams were forced to play multiple freshmen and since usually the biggest year of improvement for a college player is between his freshmen and sophmore years they took a big jump.   I can't imagine we are not at least in the middle of the pack in freshmen played last season.

Is it a guarantee we will make a 50 spot jump in the rankings next year?  No.  Is it at least a decent possibility without even stretching my maize and blue glasses a little?  Sure.   So for those of you projecting years of defensive doom just come to the middle a little bit.  We're going to be fine from here on in.  We now have actual scholarship players and back ups at every position that are not true freshmen.  This is something we haven't had in 2 years.   I'm not sure we have enough talent to be a top 10 defense, but I don't think anybody does considering we've barely seen these guys play and when we have they were probably not ready so we have a jaded view of them. 





December 23rd, 2010 at 11:16 AM ^

And of course there is this:


No. Name Pos. Ht. Wt.   No. Name Pos. Ht. Wt.
9 C Avery CB 5'11" 167   91 T Hoover DE 6'7" 260
18 J Rogers CB 6'1" 191   99 J. Worthy DT 6'3" 305
53 RV Bergen DE 6'6" 283   96 K Pickleman DT 6'4" 285
68 M Martin DT 6'2" 299   89 C Neely DE 6'1" 258
92 JB Fitz LB 6'3" 244   43 E Grodon LB 6'0" 232
8 J Mouton LB 6'2" 240   53 G Jones LB 6'1" 240
25 K Demens LB 6'1" 250   10 C Norman LB 6'1" 220
88 C Roh LB 6'5" 251   5 J Adams CB 5'11" 170
4 C Gordon S 6'3" 208   29 CL Rucker CB 6'2" 200
32 J Kovacs S 6'1" 195   39 T Robinson S 5'10" 195
13 R Vinopal S 5'10" 193   11 M Hyde S 6'0" 200
    total   2521       Total   2565

So that is a 4-3 vs. a 3-3-5 and they have 0 true freshmen in the starting 11.  4 lbs a guy...  That really is anough to "not fit the jersey of a Michgan Man"? 

Bet our total starting weight next year tops 2565.  Any takers?


December 23rd, 2010 at 10:23 AM ^

Thanks for the chart. I honestly believe we will be at least in the 60s. It can't get much worse than it was this year, even if GERG and the Beaver stay. (Unlikely)

The vision I keep dreaming for is a senior Denard offense with a 2006 defense. Is that asking too much? Can you imagine the dominance? I get tinglies just thinking about it.


December 23rd, 2010 at 10:57 AM ^

I agree that last March I thought we would be ok on defense so of course we were way off so what makes this year different?  Well a couple things.

1. Brandon Graham-We're not losing him so that would be a huge difference.

2. The CB Perfect Storm- Last year at this time we we're worried about JT  Floyd being our nickle and hoping a frosh could unseat him.  Well by August he was our top CB so at that point nobody rationally thought the defense was going to be better than the previous year which was terrible.

3. While I have fought against the defensive size meme, I will concede that I think many of our defensive breakdowns in 09  were the product of trying to make up for a Dline of BG,  Soph,  Soph,  frosh.  The dline next year I expect will play much like the Lions this year.  With Martin, RVB and Roh now physically mature and the potential I see in Black(I may be alone but I think Black could take a monster jump next year and  really emerge as a pass rush demon) I think players like Demens and Jones will be allowed to just clean up as opposed to fighting thru blocks because more double teams  will be demanded.

Football has so many variables it is often hard to really see what the actual problem is, but look into my crystal ball for a moment.  If Denard continues to improve and cuts down on the turnovers the offense will be scary.  So assume instead of being down or having to quickly get back on the field after a turnover the defense has a lead maybe even a 14pt lead and the other team is forced into abandoning their game plan and our dline and safeties are let loose to attck and blitz the qb, beacuse we are now deep enough to not be tired and have db's that are good enough to actually blitz.  Then the db's start to look a little better becuase they don't have to guard so long and the safeties don't have to overplay every run fake and so on and so on and imagine our fg kicker gets to come in and attempt a fg when we are up 20 and he knows that if he misses the kick it automatically means it is a 10pt swing and it is all right if he misses,  maybe he gets some confidence and well.........hello BCS.


December 23rd, 2010 at 10:28 AM ^

I really do see a jump in the defensive performance in the near future starting with the bowl game. I dont think that we will be world beaters by any means, but, as someone who played college football, during the season there rarely is alotted time to working on the fundamental mistakes with allignment/positioning/basic skills. Much of the time in-season is learning what the other team does and trying to get your gamplan set. With these extra practices and time the young players in our defense will be getting to work on the basics over these 15 practices, I believe you will truly see a difference in their performance on the field, starting January 1, 2011. But, that's just like my opinion man...


December 23rd, 2010 at 10:31 AM ^

I hope you are right. I remember RR saying that all the practices except this weeks were committed to working on fundamentals. No doubt practice will make an impact, but how much of one for the bowl game do you think with approx. 10 practices for fundamentals? Can they learn to play full four quarters of improved defense? I have seen blips of glory but soon as momentum shifts, it seems they never recover. This may be their youth showing and I don't know if 10 practices can overcome youth. I am hoping so though. I would like nothing better to send the Bulldogs back to they 1992 neon dance rave in the school's cafeteria.


December 23rd, 2010 at 10:39 AM ^

I agree that a lot of our defensive problems stem from losing momentum by the other team making one decent play and we get deflated.


We are so young and a lot of these kids are under so much pressure to try to live up to expectations that they have so much trouble recovering and coming back when they are down.


December 23rd, 2010 at 10:43 AM ^

Like I mentioned I dont think we are going to all of the sudden become gang busters or anything of that nature. I know that 10 practices doesnt sound like much time but, it is much more than it seems. I think we will see a defense that resembles the defense from the 1st quarter against OSU...A defense that will hold that level of play much longer into the game.


December 23rd, 2010 at 10:29 AM ^

I agree with your reasoning and have the same view.  We are not so different from Illinois last year.  I would not call our defense a sleeping giant, but it is a slumbering person of reasonable stature.


December 23rd, 2010 at 11:29 AM ^

Yes your right Blue I always dreamed michigan would have a mediocre defense going into the 4th year of a coachs tenure. I don't think Rich Rod should be gone but don't tell me I should jump up and down with joy becouse we will finnaly have a lower middle of the back defense rather than bottom of the barrel.


December 23rd, 2010 at 11:50 AM ^

If you are winning the majority of your games contending for the big ten title it's all good. 6-6 with a 50-60 range defense would I be happy no and I would hope as a Michigan fan neither would you.

All I was saying in my original post is that it's not the greatest thing ever that we may finnally have a middle of the road defense. If we win with it great awsome I will be happy as a clam. But sooner or later the Loyd screwed Rich Rod and didn't leave him any players meme will expire and he will have to hire a decent coordinator field a defense without anymore damn excuses.


December 23rd, 2010 at 12:11 PM ^

I am a supporter of RR, I used to be a strong supporter, but after the Penn State game, I just can't.

Anyway, in response to your comment, 2011 is THE YEAR, really.  I can't see how anyone can really support RR if we don't get at least nine wins (including the bowl) AND at least a win against MSU / OSU.

Frankly, RR has run out excuses credit.

I don't care if we have 18 season ending injuries on defense in the first game of the season.  He has got to find a way to get to nine wins next year or he should be gone.  "It just wasn't a good fit."

That being said, I agree with those who think we will win at least one MNC with RR, assuming he can right the ship next year.  If he can't right the ship next year, then it's not worth waiting.  Basically his problems at Michigan will outweigh his prior success.


December 23rd, 2010 at 11:53 AM ^

So you have a crystal ball and have scene us winning 12 games and playing for the national title next year? We can all hope that are d improves that much next year but no one knows what will happen not you not me. A lot of people think the d will get a lot better if Gerg is gone well didn't people think the d would be better with a different dc than Scott Schaffer.


December 23rd, 2010 at 11:37 AM ^

This past season a top 60 defense would likely have put us at 9-3, or possibly 10-2.  Plus, those crazy Illinois, Umass, and Indiana games would have been comfortable wins instead of nail-biters.  How much happier would everyone be right now even with an un-Michiganlike 60th ranked D?


December 23rd, 2010 at 12:04 PM ^

Nope, this chart can't be right. We all know Jim Harbaugh comes in and makes bad defenses good again. No way Stanford had the 90th ranked defense last year. I mean, everyone says he concentrates on defense, just like Dantonio, so it has to be true. What's that, Dantonio's Spartans were on the list too? Well now we know it has to he 100% false.


December 23rd, 2010 at 12:06 PM ^

My initial reaction is that OP is "cherry-picking" data to justify an overly optimistic view of next year's defense.  So, looking at the S&P Defensive Rankings from, I plotted a histogram of Change in Defensive Rank from one year to the next.

This looks very much like a normal distribution, so on first blush, it seems like one can say it is most likely for Michigan not to change it's defensive rank at all, and it is just as likely for Michigan to decline as it is to improve.

But wait a minute - Michigan was ranked 80th in defense this year (S&P) - it's not mathematically possible for Michigan to drop 50 spots, while it is possible for Michigan to improve by 50 spots.  So I decided to plot the Average Change in Defensive Rank v Previous Year's Defensive Rank:

This seems like a reasonably strong correlation, and it suggests a "regression to the mean" relationship between a team's defensive ranking and its improvement (or decline) the following year.  Maybe it isn't unreasonable to expect Michigan to improve towards having "an average defense" next year (from 80th to 60th).

Looking at the regression equation and plugging in Michigan's defensive ranking this year, however, it only suggests an improvement by about 7 spots.

Finally, thanks to some great feedback from MCalibur about looking at binned averages in my diary about Offensive Philosophy v. Defensive Performance, here's what the relationship looks like for Average Change in Defensive Rank v. Previous Year's Defensive Rank using 10th percentile bins (top 10% of teams, next 10% of teams, etc.):

Very strong correlation, but still quite a bit of variance.  In other words, on average one would expect Michigan to improve by about 6 or 7 spots in its defensive rank next year, but teams generally improve or decline by as many as 10 or 11 spots just by the variation in the data.

So while it's theoretically possible for Michigan to jump to a very highly ranked defense next year, it seems more likely to me that Michigan makes marginal improvement (6-11 spots) and has a slightly worse than average defense next year.


December 23rd, 2010 at 1:43 PM ^

You injected a lot of real data into my post.   I also found Ole Miss went from 21 last year to 80 this year as they tanked so the inverse is definitely going on. 

I think it is impossible to do, but I would like to look at your chart and then compare it to returning starters/experience and see how strong the correlation. 


December 23rd, 2010 at 6:16 PM ^

Well, I'm really not a stats expert, and I don't have the time to do an in-depth analysis of how experience relates to defensive performance like ebv did in his diary, Experience vs defensive (and offensive) performance - revisited.

It was a pain just slogging through to find out how many returning defensive starters there were on each team - just for one year's worth of data.

Nevertheless, I took a stab at accounting for both the previous year's defensive rank and the number of returning defensive starters, in calculating the impact on the change in the following year's defensive ranking.  Again, to help isolate the trend, I looked at averages of 10th percentile bins (top 10% of teams, 2nd 10% of teams, etc.).

The formula was pretty simple: independent variable is 1 x previous defensive rank + 10 x returning defensive starters.  (I tried to use "Solver" in OpenOffice Calc, but it kept giving me an error.  I had to manually adjust the coefficients, and interestingly enough, 1 and 10 seemed to be close to optimal.)

In this scenario, Michigan is in the 9th bin (bottom 20% of teams) with a previous year's defensive ranking of 80 (S&P) and the number of returning starters at 9.  Applying the regression equation gives a more optimistic estimate of improvement by 17 ranking spots.  However, given that there are 120 teams, that still makes the predicted rank of Michigan's defense a little below average (63rd).  And the variation is huge (average Standard Deviation of these bins is +/- 25 ranking spots).

I forgot to mention in my earlier comment above that Michigan, with an 80th ranked defense last year (S&P), would be in the 7th bin (bottom 40% of teams). That's what gave an estimated improvement of 6-7 ranking spots in that earlier analysis.

It's also interesting (to me) that the strength of the correlation actually went down from R-squared = 0.91, looking only at previous year's rank, to R-squared = 0.78 when looking at both previous year's rank and returning starters.  I don't really know what that means, but maybe it has something to do with how returning low-performing players doesn't necessarily result in improvement...?


December 23rd, 2010 at 2:16 PM ^

......that a couple more defensive stops per game, something that isn't that far off from where the D was this year, would have made a tremendous difference in the outcome of nearly every game. The close wins would have been a little more comfortable and the MSU, Iowa and PSU games could have turned out different.


December 23rd, 2010 at 5:21 PM ^

The Stanford stat will have a lot of folks scratching their heads.  I noticed Stanford has four first year coaches on Defense (including special teams).  I didn't realize he (Jim) plucked Vic Fangio from his brother either.  Interesante!