Phil Callihan and Clint Derringer review the SP+ season preview, includes game-by-game predictions.
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Looking Back is a Special Feature by Jeff Cummins Highlighting Key Rivalry Games
The third installment of the series focusing on the football rivalry between Michigan and Minnesota takes us back to 2003. The Wolverines arrived in Minneapolis fresh off a frustrating loss at Iowa. Few expected Minnesota to give Michigan any trouble, but unusual things often happen in rivalry games.
Michigan entered the game as the lower-ranked team, but had every reason to expect to dominate Minnesota; the Wolverines hadn’t lost to Minnesota since 1986, a time that virtually none of the 2003 Wolverines could even remember. So Michigan could be forgiven for thinking a very should be in order, but in the third quarter, anyone wearing the maize & blue would glance up at the scoreboard in the Metrodome and realize that Minnesota was, in fact, leading by three touchdowns. This wasn’t an ordinary deficit by any means.
Somehow, the resilience that made those 2003 Wolverines Big Ten champions showed up late in the game, when they needed it most. John Navarre started the comeback when he connected with Chris Perry on a screen pass for a 10-yard touchdown in the fourth quarter to cut Minnesota’s lead to two scores. After Jacob Stewart returned an interception 30 yards for a touchdown, the Wolverines started to regain their confidence, while the Golden Gophers could hear the footsteps, as well as the burden of history. Suddenly, maintaining that lead must have seemed like a monumental task for the Golden Gophers, while the Wolverines experience a very familiar feeling, the fierce rush of adrenalin that comes with knowing you can achieve a goal. Michigan sensed the game was theirs for the taking, and they never took their feet off the gas, even after Asad Abdel-Khaliq scampered 52 yards for a touchdown that re-established a 14-point advantage for the Golden Gophers. Michigan responded with the obligatory big play from Braylon Edwards, who could be counted on to make at least one big play in every Michigan comeback. Edwards got by the Minnesota secondary and extended the ball across the goal line to cut Michigan’s deficit to one touchdown, which Perry erased on a 10-yard touchdown run deep in the fourth quarter. By the time that Garrett Rivas lined up for the decisive 33-yard field goal, there was a familiar silence in the Metronome, a place that always lacked a college football feeling. By the time Markus Curry intercepted Minnesota’s last gasp pass, there was an air of resignation in the Metrodome, as the Golden Gophers realized their fate.
Michigan went on to claim the Big Ten title that year, but the comeback win over Minnesota was the Wolverines’ most exciting game, by far.
As always, this blog post is strictly for the entertainment of fans. I do not profit in any way from it. Thanks to YouTube poster WolverineHistorian and ESPN for the video highlights below.
Michigan RB Zach Charbonnet meets with the media. Topics include QB Joe Milton, his running back teammates, and offensive players who have been standing out in practice.
Per Michigan Media Relations Rules this is the 5 minute cut.
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Every football offseason feels like it takes forever to end. In 2020, this particular football offseason dwarfs all the rest. After the cancellation of spring ball, and the postponement then revival of the 2020 fall season, I cannot wait to return to discussions about players, stats, and game results again. This week I will kickoff the return of UMGoBlue.com By the Numbers content with a game-by-game preview of the 2020 Michigan Football season. In the By the Numbers articles and podcasts I will compile, review, and summarize data and metrics to look deeper into the football team’s performance, and try to provide a clearer picture of how the upcoming games may turn out.
The foundation for most of my analysis comes from the ESPN SP+ college football analytics model, created by Bill Connelly. While his system was meant to be predictive for beating the odds against Vegas, studying the Five Factors is useful for understanding what a team does, or needs to do, to win football games. Here are his B1G West & B1G East preseason preview articles.
What is SP+
SP+ is the tempo and opponent adjusted college football analytical model developed by Bill Connelly for Football Outsiders (he is now at ESPN). SP+ is based around the core concepts of the Five Factors of winning football: efficiency, explosiveness, field position, finishing drives, and turnovers. The resulting metric is expressed in adjusted points per game, as compared to the average CFB team.
Over the past two seasons, Connelly’s SP+ preseason predictions correctly selected the winner in 22 of 24 regular season Michigan games. The SP+ weekly projections were correct in 24 of 26 Michigan games, including a perfect 13-for-13 in 2019.
Overall – 17th, 14.0
Offense – 38th, 31.9
Defense – 14th, 17.8
PRESEASON SP+: Minnesota by 0.3 – This matchup reminds me of how SP+ saw the week 1 toss up on the road versus Notre Dame in 2018.
PREDICTION: This will be the third consecutive season that Michigan starts with a night game in week 1. Because everything in 2020 is crazy, this one will be in front of almost no fans in the stands (families of the players only). ESPN College Gameday will also be in Minneapolis. I think the offense will be able to move the ball, but the key for Josh Gattis will be cashing in Michigan’s opportunities for touchdowns. Defensively, the Wolverines will be in trouble if they are unable to convert pressure into sacks against QB Tanner Morgan and WR Rashod Bateman.
Michigan 34 Minnesota 30, 1-0
PRESEASON SP+: Michigan by 10.0 – Before the games are played, the SP+ system relies on returning production and past recruiting. The metrics haven’t seen what Mel Tucker’s Spartans will bring in 2020, and neither have I.
PREDICTION: This game is in the Big House for the second consecutive year. The main difference between the Michigan football program and Michigan State football program since the Wolverines’ 44-10 mauling last November is the lack of time on task this past offseason will be an even larger challenge for Mel Tucker’s staff as they transition. I am sure they will play with a lot of passion, and rivalry games can be weird, but this will be lopsided by the end.
Michigan 31 Michigan State 14, 2-0
PRESEASON SP+: Michigan by 4.1 – Tom Allen has instilled a tough attitude in Bloomington, and SP+ recognizes balance between the offense and defense that has not been common for the Hoosiers.
PREDICTION: I’ve heard this game identified as a potential trap game for Michigan coming off a rivalry game, and perhaps looking ahead to Wisconsin. While that is possible, I think the Hoosiers will have Michigan’s full attention. The Wolverines looked sharp last November on the road (the week before OSU). I expect Michigan will have some early season offensive hiccups corrected by week 3. This could become a shootout if QB Michael Penix is extending plays with his scrambling ability .
Michigan 35 Indiana 20, 3-0
PRESEASON SP+: Wisconsin by 7.7 – The Badgers’ brand of football includes efficient offense and stout defense each year. The SP+ system will consistently reward that efficiency.
PREDICTION: Wisconsin has to replace a star running back and their best wide receiver who both entered the NFL draft. The starting quarterback may still be sidelined for this game after suffering a foot injury that required surgery during fall camp. But the Badgers reload every year in the trenches on both sides of the ball, where it matters most. This will be the first top-tier defense that Joe Milton will see, and I expect a difficult outing for the offense. The Wolverines will also miss 111,000 fans and the home field advantage they typically provide in this one.
Michigan 17 Wisconsin 23, 3-1
PRESEASON SP+: Michigan by 24.2 – Greg Schiano’s return to New Jersey comes in a tough year for new coaches. Rutgers will improve on defense throughout the year, though.
PREDICTION: I worry this mid-November trip to Piscataway will produce a pretty flat performance. The Wolverines will need to manufacture their own energy and adrenaline. While I think Michigan will have to navigate some rough patches of play, the talent gap between Michigan and Rutgers is too wide for me to be overly concerned.
Michigan 41 Rutgers 10, 4-1
PRESEASON SP+: Penn State by 8.3 – PSU welcomes back a lot of offensive production. Time will tell whether or not they can replace some major star power on defense.
PREDICTION: This game is the second of the 2020 season that Michigan will sorely miss the Big House atmosphere. Under Jim Harbaugh, Michigan has outscored Penn State 91-17 in Ann Arbor. I believe Don Brown and the defense will correct some of the big play mistakes from last year in State College. With this game being played during Thanksgiving weekend (the normal OSU weekend), I’ll be looking at run game Success Rate as a key indicator of who has the inside track leading up to this game.
Michigan 27 Penn State 21, 5-1
PRESEASON SP+: Michigan by 18.2 – The first December football game at Michigan Stadium will be Senior Day. Maryland’s preseason rankings are below Power 5 average in all facets.
PREDICTION: The final home game for 2020 really highlights some of the folly of trying to predict the 2020 college football season. Right now in mid-October, on paper, I should tell you this will be an old school beat down. If (that is a BIG IF) all the key players are healthy and available, I believe that will be the case. On top of all that, you can add December weather forecasting in Michigan to the mix. The information we have available currently points to a fun day for Michigan fans.
Michigan 51 Maryland 6, 6-1
PRESEASON SP+: Ohio State by 16.2 – Right now, SP+ would favor the Buckeyes over both 5-0 Clemson and over 4-0 Alabama by 1.7 points. It increases to 7.6 over Georgia, who is currently 4th and is coming off a 17-point loss to the Crimson Tide.
PREDICTION: I’ve used this space for two years to spout my optimism about Michigan’s return to level footing in the rivalry. I can still sell myself on the logic: The 2016 game was robbery. Harbaugh’s worst performing team in 2017 probably should have beaten the Buckeyes. Some very flawed teams from the Hoke era were within a play or two of beating Ohio State. However, Ohio State has somehow managed to improve as they navigated a coaching change and transitioned to a transfer quarterback. They are doing something different in Columbus. It will take a truly heroic effort from the Wolverines to win in the Horseshoe. The 2020 season will certainly continue to be crazy. Let’s hope Michigan puts an insane cap on it this December.
Michigan 24 Ohio State 37, 6-2
2nd Place in B1G Ten East
Looking Back is a Special Feature by Jeff Cummins Highlighting Key Rivalry Games
The second post of the series looking back at the football rivalry between Michigan and Minnesota takes us back to 1997. Most prognosticators had pegged Michigan for rebuilding mode that season, but the Wolverines had other ideas. Despite the preseason predictions, the Wolverines had the confidence to make Minnesota the opponent for their 101st homecoming, an honor usually reserved for an opponent that’s expected to be a fairly easy win for the home team.
When game day arrived, the Wolverines delivered on their promise. Fresh off a stirring defensive performance at Michigan State, Michigan spotted the Golden Gophers a three-point lead when Adam Bailey kicked a 26-yard field goal for Minnesota. That was the last time all day the Michigan defense would prove to be so sporting to the Golden Gophers. After a methodical march downfield, Jay Feely’s field gaol attempt sailed wide right, and Michigan let Minnesota off the hook. Things changed immediately in the second quarter, as Charles Woodson scampered 34 yards on a reverse to score the Wolverines’ first touchdown of the day. After that, the game took on a distinct maize & blue hue. Minnesota’s offense played at normal speed, while the Wolverine defense looked as if the tape was set in fast forward mode. Following a brief Minnesota possession, Brian Griese found tight end Mark Campbell on a waggle pass for a 12-yard touchdown pass and the Wolverines were in solid control.
In the second half, Anthony Thomas scored on a 30-yard run to effectively turn out the lights on the day. The easy victory proved to be beneficial for the Wolverines, who had critical games coming up against Penn State, Wisconsin, Ohio State and Washington State in the drive for their first national championship since 1948.
Thanks to YouTube poster WolverineHistorian for the highlight film of this game. As always, this blog post is strictly for the enjoyment of readers and I do not profit in any way from it.