By the Numbers: 2020 Michigan Football Season Preview

Young WRs like Mike Sainristil must step up for the Michigan offense during an uncertain 2020 season.

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.
Full Explanation 

Previous Results (2018-19)

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.

In my season preview posts in 2018 & 2019, I correctly picked the winner in 19 of 24 regular season Michigan games. In the weekly previews, I have been correct in 21 of 25 games.

Michigan 2020 SP+ Preseason Ranking

Overall – 17th, 14.0
Offense – 38th, 31.9
Defense – 14th, 17.8

2020 Regular Season Schedule

@ Minnesota: 16th Overall, 10th Offense, 44th Defense

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

vs. Michigan State: 51st Overall, 109th Offense, 13th Defense

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

@ Indiana: 32nd Overall, 35th Offense, 30th Defense

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

vs. Wisconsin: 6th Overall, 19th Offense, 3rd Defense

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

@ Rutgers: 109th Overall, 119th Offense, 75th Defense

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

vs. Penn State: 5th Overall, 8th Offense, 10th Defense

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

vs. Maryland: 84th Overall, 98th Offense, 69th Defense

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

@ Ohio State: 1st Overall, 2nd Offense, 2nd Defense

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

Cam McGrone will need to lead a herculean effort in Columbus to break the streak of losses to OSU.

Michigan 24 Army 21 – Week 2 Recap

WEEK 2 PROJECTION vs. RESULTS

Final Score: 24-21 2OT, Michigan by 3 over Army
SP+ Projection: Michigan by 25.2 (-22.2)
CD Projection: Michigan by 20 (-17)

FIVE FACTORS

Click here for more description of the Five Factors from Week 1

WEEK 2 RECAP vs. Army

There was not much magic hidden beneath the surface of Michigan’s double overtime victory over the Army Black Knights.  Typically, the soldiers dominate time of possession. Today, Army only had a slight edge 31:35 to 28:25 for Michigan.  On the Five Factors table above, only the Explosiveness metric displayed a distinct advantage for one team. While the edge went to Michigan, there wasn’t a lopsided margin in YPP and IsoPPP that we expected from #SpeedInSpace.

The Wolverines were in serious trouble at the half.  Michigan was fortunate to only be down one score after two quarters. The Black Knights had cashed in on two short field opportunities for touchdowns.  Meanwhile, Michigan had only mustered one score as freshman Zach Charbonnet scored his first career touchdown as a Wolverine. After three turnovers and missing a long Quinn Nordin field goal attempt, Michigan averaged a paltry 1.75 points per first half scoring opportunity.

The uneasy feeling lingered into the second half. The referees called back a Giles Jackson kickoff return of 42 yards due to an illegal blindside block.  After Michigan went three and out, Army showed they had made some shrewd halftime adjustments and began to march. A 60 yard, 7:43 drive added to Michigan fans’ anxiety. However, once they reached the red zone, Army QB Kelvin Hopkins, Jr. was intercepted by corner back Lavert Hill.   5:19 later Charbonnet punched in his second touchdown of the day to tie the score. The interception by Hill was clearly a pivotal moment in this game, but not the final critical play.

The Michigan defense started the fourth quarter by forcing another three-and-out. Michigan’s offense took the momentum and drove back into Army territory with the score tied 14-14.  With the clock nearing 10:00 left in regulation, and facing 4th & 2 from the Army 19 yard line, Jim Harbaugh chose to keep the offense on the field. Shea Patterson handed off on a zone run to the right, but the Black Knights had called the perfect run blitz. Charbonnet was tackled immediately for a four yard loss. 

The decision to forego the 37 yard field goal attempt that could have broken the tie will be questioned for the next two weeks. The conservative play calls will also be a popular topic of discussion. Michigan chose to run the ball on 74% of their 4th quarter plays. A third confounding facet of this particular 4th down play is whether it was a called hand off to Charbonnet, or if it may have been a poor read by QB Shea Patterson.  Regardless, the ball went back to the Black Knights, and 110,000 Michigan heart rates increased rapidly.

A similar sequence followed: the Wolverines’ defense forced another Army punt, and again Jim Harbaugh kept the offense on the field for a failed 4th down conversion attempt, this time at the Army 42 yard line.  The Black Knights leveraged their one time out and marched into position for a potential 50 yard game-winning field goal. Somehow, Michigan fans were spared again as the kick fell short and wide right. Blood pressure continued to rise in the Greater Ann Arbor area as the teams prepared for overtime.

Both offenses converted in key spots to score touchdowns in the first over time period. Army used an unbalanced formation to outflank the Wolverines to score first.  Michigan answered with a clutch 3rd & 6 pass from Patterson to Ronnie Bell. After pass interference placed the ball at the 2 yard line, Charbonnet was able to burrow into the end zone for his third touchdown of the day.  

In the second overtime period, Michigan led off with three incomplete passes. Jake Moody provided some reliefe by converting a 43 yard field goal attempt to take their first lead of the game.  Again, Michigan called on their fatigued defense to at least hold Army to a field goal attempt. Defensive end Aiden Hutchinson answered the bell with a tackle for loss on 2nd down to force a 3rd & 11 from the 26 yard line.  As Army called just their fifth pass play of the game, Hutchinson was joined by Carlo Kemp in a huge inside pass rash to strip the ball from Hopkins. When Quity Paye fell on the fumble, he sealed Michigan’s second victory of the 2019 season.

I am sure this nail-biter may have been wildly entertaining for outside observers, but there was a deep and collectively frustrated sigh of relief from the Big House faithful after the Wolverines were finally able to move to 2-0. There will be no shortage of questions to answer during the upcoming first bye week.  Don Brown may have come up with some answers in Week 2. Let’s hope the offense can follow suit as Michigan preps for Wisconsin and the rest of the Big Ten.

By the Numbers: Week 2 vs. Army

LAST WEEK RECAP

Michigan showed significant change from the 2018 team on both sides of the ball vs. a C-USA opponent in MTSU. With change comes plenty of opportunity for improvement, especially on offense. For a glimpse of what the 2019 season could be, the 2nd quarter is worth re-watching as Michigan’s offense put their best foot forward: 4 play TD drive, 2 play TD drive, 12 play FG drive.

LAST WEEK PROJECTION vs. RESULTS

FIVE FACTORS

Click here for more description of the Five Factors from Week 1

NEXT UP: vs. Army: Overall -5.2, 90th

PREGAME SP+: Michigan by 25.2, Win Probability 93%
Even if you considered the Wolverines unimpressive in Week 1, the Black Knights were even less so in a 14-7 home victory over the Rice Owls (SP+ 129th).

Michigan Offense (33rd) vs. Army Defense (67th)
I’ll be looking for significant improvement in the sharpness of the Wolverines’ offensive execution. We’ve seen flashes of high-octane potential in both the passing and rushing attacks. We’ll see more physical mismatches to be exploited by Shea Patterson and the Michigan wide receivers and tight ends. Only one defensive back who registered a tackle in Week 1 for Army stands taller than 5’11”. The real key is to stay healthy going into Big Ten play. In addition to Patterson being dinged up, and Donovan Peoples-Jones in a walking boot, the offensive line depth is already being tapped as Jon Runyan and Steve Spanellis have joined Andrew Stueber on the injury report.

Michigan Defense (32nd) vs. Army Offense (91st)
The SP+ rating system underrates Army’s offense because they have no fear of using all four downs. Success Rate is built around trying to pick up first downs in three tries, typically. Michigan will have a significant size and talent advantage, but Army will be trying to force the Wolverines into missed assignments versus the Triple Option. I will start to get nervous if it feels like the clock is melting away, and the Black Knights are moving 3-7 yards at a time. The rushing attack is led by returning QB Kelvin Hopkins, Jr. He may be joined by Connor Slomka, Army’s 2nd leading returning rusher, who missed Week 1 with an injury.

PREDICTION: I am bullish on the offense, but I still expect to see a few awkward moments this Saturday. Even after some significant improvement, Michigan will be trying to walk a fine line between:
1) putting enough personnel groupings & concepts onto film to force Wisconsin to prepare for a wide variety of stuff
2) keeping enough counter punches off of film to unveil in Madison in two weeks.
The lack of interior defensive line depth will allow Army to march a little bit, and will be a concern until Michigan can hit on some big plays. This game may be closer than I had originally expected.
Michigan 33 Army 13 (PRESEASON: Michigan 45 Army 14)

MICHIGAN RESUME UPDATE (9/4/2019)

  • SP+ Overall: 14th (↓5), 17.6
    • SP+ Offense: 33rd (↓19), 42.0
    • SP+ Defense: 32nd (↓19), 24.4
  • AP Poll: 7th (same), 1126
  • Coaches’ Poll: 7th (same), 1155
  • CFP Rank: N/A

By the Numbers: 2019 Football Season Preview

Eyes on the prize!

Hello again! The dog days of summer have arrived in Michigan. The weather is unbearably hot, but the August thunderstorms also signal the return of UMGoBlue.com By the Numbers content. In our By the Numbers articles and podcasts, Phil and I will review data and metrics to analyze the football team’s performance, and try to prepare ourselves for what may lie ahead. I’ll kickoff with my 2019 Michigan Football Season Preview!

The foundation for most of our analysis comes from the SP+ college football analytics model. While the system was meant to be predictive for beating the odds against Vegas, study of the Five Factors is extremely useful for picking out what a team needs to do to win football games.

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.
Full Explanation 

2018 Results

In 2018, the SP+ preseason predictions correctly selected the winner in 11 out of 12 regular season Michigan games (picked MSU to win). The SP+ weekly preview was correct in 11 out of 13 games (picked Michigan over OSU & Florida).

Full disclosure: in my 2018 preseason preview article I correctly picked 9 out of 12 games (picked Wisconsin, and Michigan over Notre Dame & OSU) . In the weekly previews, I corrected the Wisconsin pick and moved to 10 out of 12.

Michigan S&P+ Preseason Ranking

Overall – 9th
Offense – 14th
Defense – 13th

2019 Regular Season Schedule

vs. Middle Tennessee State: 104th Overall, 113th Offense, 86th Defense

PRESEASON SP+: Michigan by 33.4, Win Probability 97% – MTSU is a comfortable opening opponent for new defensive personnel, and a new offensive system. 

PREDICTION: Let’s hope another Week 1 night game doesn’t throw the players out of whack. Adrenaline coursing through athletes who are caged all day can significantly drain one’s energy. Don’t forget the cramp epidemic for Michigan last season in South Bend. That also needs to be solved. With all that said, Michigan is too talented on both sides of the ball for MTSU. There may be some hiccups, but there will be a lot of cheering echoing from the Big House throughout the night.
Michigan 34 MTSU 3, 1-0

vs. Army: 80th Overall, 55th Offense, 94th Defense

PRESEASON SP+: Michigan by 25.4, Win Probability 93% – Army’s triple-option offense befuddles the SP+ metrics. Prepare for a lot of 4th down conversion attempts.

PREDICTION: Certain nightmarish performances of the past have taught us one thing for sure: if you catch Don Brown’s defense off guard, the problems can escalate quickly. However, the Army game has been on the schedule for a long time, and Don Brown showed he can effectively prepare for the service academy option attack. In 2017, the Wolverines were very solid against Air Force, despite returning just one starter from 2016. Also, look for the Michigan offense to take a step forward against Army’s bottom-half defense.
Michigan 45 Army 14, 2-0

@ Wisconsin: 11th Overall, 5th Offense, 33rd Defense

PRESEASON SP+: Wisconsin by 1.0, Win Probability 48% – Both teams come off a bye week. Both will likely be 2-0.

PREDICTION: This is not your typical B1G opener, and the Badgers will present an early season-defining challenge in Madison. At home in 2018, Michigan outperformed the SP+ projections by an average of 7.91 points. On the road, the Wolverines under-performed by -7.14 points on average. That’s a negative 15 point swing between home and road games! The only game to qualify as a plus differential away from the Big House in 2018 was versus MSU. Before seeing more consistent leadership, play making, or results on the road I can’t pick Michigan @ Camp Randall.
Michigan 24 Wisconsin 26, 2-1

vs. Rutgers: 108th Overall, 121st Offense, 87th Defense

PRESEASON SP+: Michigan by 36.4, Win Probability 98% – There is no better balm to soothe a team coming off a tough week than a home game versus Rutgers.

PREDICTION: The Scarlet Knights fall into an unfortunate spot (for them) on Michigan’s schedule. Either the Wolverines will be very angry coming back home from Madison with something to prove, or they will be starting to roll as the offense irons out the wrinkles and the defensive staff finds their best personnel packages. Both possible scenarios spell trouble for Rutgers.
Michigan 55 Rutgers 10, 3-1

vs. Iowa: 25th Overall, 48th Offense, 18th Defense

PRESEASON SP+: Michigan by 11.6, Win Probability 75% – I think SP+ is under-rating Iowa in the preseason. Nate Stanley and the offensive efficiency will push them into the top 25 by this point in the season.

PREDICTION: The Hawkeyes will represent the second major conference test for Michigan in 2019, this one coming at home. I personally think this may be a preview of an Indianapolis match up for the B1G Ten title. I am intrigued to see how the numbers have shifted going into October. Will the Wolverines’ offensive and/or defensive units have moved up from the mid-teens in SP+ ranking? My feeling is that the projected margin will be razor thin going into Iowa week, but Michigan will ride a special teams advantage to the win.
Michigan 30 Iowa 23, 4-1

@ Illinois: 91st Overall, 54th Offense, 106th Defense

PRESEASON SP+: Michigan by 22.8, Win Probability 91% – The numbers project a lopsided win for Michigan, but watch out for this major TRAP GAME on the road.

PREDICTION: In addition to Brandon Peters’ revenge game, the Illini fan base has much stronger animosity for the Wolverines than you’d think. I will be watching for major improvement in road game preparation when Michigan travels to Champagne for this game. Even if there is a slow start (think 2018 Northwestern), superior talent should be enough to carry the Wolverines. Also, this point in the season may reveal a surprise contributor in a breakout performance, or perhaps in an explosive highlight reel play (eyes on the Freshmen).
Michigan 27 Illinois 14, 5-1

@ Penn State: 14th Overall, 51st Offense, 4th Defense

PRESEASON SP+: Michigan by 0.7, Win Probability 52% – Easiest prediction for this game: it will be at night, in a white-out @ Beaver Stadium.

PREDICTION: As I see it in August, this sets up as the pivotal moment for the 2019 football season. The Wolverines will have to prove to themselves on a national stage, and prove to the fan base that they can prepare for and execute against a good team in a hostile environment. This certainly could be a nail biter, perhaps similar to the 2018 MSU game that was tied 7-7 near the end of third quarter. However, I think Harbaugh and his staff will sense the critical nature of the moment, and will rise to the occasion.
Michigan 31 Penn State 17, 6-1

vs. Notre Dame: 12th Overall, 29th Offense, 9th Defense

PRESEASON SP+: Michigan by 5.0, Win Probability 61% – These two defenses will probably both be Top 10 in SP+ unit rankings by the last week of October. This one could end under the lights if it’s a 3:30 kick, and very well may get scheduled to kick off in prime time.

PREDICTION: I see Michigan’s return to the Big House as a continuation of whatever momentum is created the previous week in Happy Valley. If the Wolverines are riding the emotional high of a pivotal league victory, that portends well for their chances versus the Irish. If their B1G Ten East title hopes took a serious blow from the Nittany Lions, this non-conference game isn’t going to do much to change the narrative spun by Harbaugh’s critics. Third possible outcome may be the most likely: I have no idea what I’m talking about.
Michigan 33 Notre Dame 13, 7-1

@ Maryland: 67th Overall, 69th Offense, 65th Defense

PRESEASON SP+: Michigan by 17.0, Win Probability 84% – There is almost no reliability in the preseason metrics regarding the Terps and how they will adjust to Mike Locksley and his new staff. Maybe that’s why S&P+ ranks both Maryland units in the dead center nationally.

PREDICTION: There will be very little doubt about who creates the game plans, and who calls the offensive plays in this match up. A slight risk of a November TRAP GAME may have existed when the 2019 schedule was released. However, Maryland will now have the full attention of Mr. Gattis & #SpeedInSpace in College Park.
Michigan 35 Maryland 7, 8-1

vs. MSU: 23rd Overall, 96th Offense, 3rd Defense

PRESEASON SP+: Michigan by 11.5, Win Probability 75% – Seems like there MUST be a regression to the mean for the Spartan offensive unit. They can’t be THAT bad again, can they?

PREDICTION: Despite the battle for the Paul Bunyan trophy moving to November, Michigan State still has a ferocious October gauntlet of their own in 2019: @ Ohio State, @ Wisconsin, bye week, vs. Penn State. No matter what happens in those three games, we will MOSTLY know who the Spartans are by the time they reach Ann Arbor. The B1G Ten East could be on the line, or it could just be another opportunity to be “Defeated With Dignity”. I think this will have major implications for the race in the East, and Dantonio will have MSU ready to go. Look for another weather-affected defensive struggle to be way too close for comfort.
Michigan 17 MSU 13, 9-1

@ Indiana: 46th Overall, 40th Offense, 59th Defense

PRESEASON SP+: Michigan by 12.7, Win Probability 77% – Michigan has won 23 consecutive meetings against the Hoosiers. Indiana has been quite a nuisance in nearly every match up, including engineering the offensive game plan that led to the debacle in Columbus.

PREDICTION: This game will be closer than Wolverines fans think it “should” be. Memorial Stadium sure gives off quite a Horseshoe vibe, doesn’t it. The crowd may be up to 50% maize and blue, but the crimson and cream uniforms will look a little too much like scarlet and grey. If I’m struggling in August to stop myself from looking past the Hoosiers and toward The Game, can Harbaugh and the boys avoid the same pitfall in November?
Michigan 28 Indiana 25, 10-1

vs. Ohio State: 7th Overall, 6th Offense, 14th Defense

PRESEASON SP+: Ohio State by 0.2, Win Probability 49% – The main reason there is significant reliability in preseason SP+ metrics for the Buckeyes under new head coach Ryan Day is because they continue to be absolutely loaded with blue chip talent at every position.

PREDICTION: The narrative will be about Harbaugh and his legacy. There will be a well verbalized count of days since November 2011 when interim coach Luke Fickell took a loss to Brady Hoke’s Wolverines. Urban Meyer may have already taken a leave of absence from his interim media position and moved to Los Angeles to start understanding life as a Trojan. None of that will matter. November 30th, 2019 will be about Jim Harbaugh and his staff delivering on a long broken promise to the Wolverine seniors: Those Who Stay Will be Champions.
Michigan 37 Ohio State 33, 11-1,
B1G Ten East Champions

Michigan Football By the Numbers: Penn State

The first three stops on the Revenge Tour have been overwhelming for the opponents.  The challenge for Jim Harbaugh’s Wolverines will be to maintain the “one game at a time” focus for two more weeks versus Rutgers and Indiana without minds wandering to Columbus for the Grand Finale.

What is S&P+
The original system was based on Success rate and equivalent Points per play. It was an attempt at an OPS-style measure for football, a look at both efficiency and explosiveness. As so many things do, however, it has grown more complicated.In its current state, S&P+ is based around the core concepts of the Five Factors of winning football: efficiency, explosiveness, field position, finishing drives, and turnoversFull Explanation 
TABLE: FIVE FACTORS

OFFENSE

Memo to Jim Harbaugh & Warde Manuel: Please find a way to lock Ed Warriner up with a long-term contract!  The question marks we all saw along the offensive line during fall camp, and versus Notre Dame in week one, have been transformed to exclamation points in front of our eyes.  After wearing down what used to be the #1 rush defense two weeks ago in East Lansing, Michigan’s offensive line allowed just two negative-yardage plays versus the Nittany Lions’ defensive front that came in leading the Big Ten in that category.  In the last three Big Ten games versus Wisconsin, Michigan State, and Penn State, the Wolverines’ ground-and-pound strategy has been led masterfully by the big guys in the trenches.  Over and above the rushing stats, and keeping Shea Patterson clean, Runyan Jr., Bredeson, Ruiz, Owenu, and Bushell-Beatty have enabled a multi-faceted offense because they are executing multiple zone and gap schemes.  Michigan has proven that they are capable of adapting their offensive approach to whatever an opponent gives them.  From this point forward, only individual lack of execution could still stand in the way of continued success for the offense.

DEFENSE

The King of Defensive Coordinators has done it again.  Don Brown’s squad smothered the Nittany Lions into the dirt.  When isolating to only successful plays, Penn State actually managed to be more explosive than Michigan (SEE: IsoPPP in the Five Factors table).  However, those chunk plays for Penn State seemed like gasps for air from a panicked swimmer in a “Jaws” sequel.  Trace McSorley was clearly less than 100% from the moment he stepped onto the field at Michigan Stadium.  It’s a safe bet that he left Ann Arbor even less healthy than he came in.  The Wolverines sacked PSU quarterbacks five times, and forced three turnovers.  Brandon Watson’s interception return for a touchdown matches the lone touchdown that Penn State was fortunate to salvage versus the backups on the final drive. Let me say it this way: Jim Harbaugh could have allowed the Nittany Lions to consider it a touchdown if they crossed Michigan’s 40-yard-line, and the Wolverines still would have won 42-14 (Trips inside opp40: Michigan 7 Penn State 2).

S&P+ THROUGH WEEK 10

MICHIGAN S&P+
Overall: 25.4, 3rd (up 1)
Offense: 35.2, 24th (up 6)
Defense: 10.0, 1st (same)

REGULAR SEASON PROJECTIONS vs. RESULTS

vs. Penn State UM 42 PSU 7
Pregame Midpoint S&P+: UM by 5.8, 9-0
Pregame Clint: UM by 24, 8-1
MICH Cumulative 2ndO Wins: 8.3

NEXT UP

@ Rutgers: Overall -19.0, 126th
M Offense 35.2, (25th) vs. O Defense 32.3 (94th), Midpoint: 33.75
M Defense 10.0 (1st) vs. O Offense 13.1 (128th), Midpoint: 11.55

PREGAME EDGE: Michigan
The midpoint of S&P+ ratings gives a 22.2 point edge to Michigan. I don’t know if that’s enough to cover the halftime score. Rutgers has plummeted to fifth-from-the-bottom among FBS schools.

GAME WEEK UPDATE: I foresee a lot of carries for Chris Evans, and Tru Wilson. If 2016 is any indication, the Wolverines will want to execute a few new plays, and would like to be explosive in front of their east coast recruits. There are really two key things for this game: 1) stay healthy 2) stay focused on the task at hand.
Michigan 48 Rutgers 3 (PRESEASON: Michigan 34 Rutgers 3)

TL; DR SUMMARY

The Michigan Football team is building to a November crescendo exactly the way Jim Harbaugh envisioned when he overhauled his coaching and strength training staff last winter. Every goal set by the Wolverines is starting to appear on the horizon. Now the challenge is to maintain focus on all three Big Ten foes who remain in the way.  Onward!