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Tuesday, January 16, 2007

It's mailbag time, which means a lot of people write things that aren't me and I respond to them, hopefully in slightly less lazy fashion than newspaper guys.

First, frequent commenter Other_Andrew puts in the time to break down the Pernicious Michigan Bye effect in convincing fashion:

Hey Brian,

You once mentioned "beware the Michigan bye" or something to that effect. Two months ago, I did a little research on that issue (because I've long noticed it as well), and here's what I found:

There is quite a skew – especially when you consider the fact that Michigan has the best record in the conference over this time period – these teams should all have a leg up just based on the fact that they don’t play Michigan. Below is place followed by conference record. There are only three instances of a finish third place or higher. Three out of 28. There are nine finishes in the bottom two (counting ties), eleven in the bottom three. Granted, Ohio State and Michigan finish near the top very often which takes up potentially high slots, but this list seems more than coincidentally lousy:

Indiana --> 4t (5-3)
Northwestern --> 10t (0-8)

Indiana --> 8 (3-5)
Northwestern --> 10 (2-6)

Iowa --> 6 (4-4)
Wisconsin --> 7t (3-4-1)

Iowa --> 3t (6-2)
Wisconsin --> 7 (3-5)

Illinois --> 11 (0-8)
Purdue --> 2t (6-2)

Illinois --> 7t (2-6)
Purdue --> 4 (6-2)

Minnesota --> 4t (5-3)
Iowa --> 11 (0-8)

Minnesota --> 5t (4-4)
Iowa --> 8 (3-5)

Indiana --> 4t (4-4)
Northwestern --> 10t (2-6)

’02: (the year OSU and Iowa missed one another, both
went 8-0)
Indiana --> 10t (1-7)
Northwestern --> 10t (1-7)

Penn State --> 9t (1-7)
Wisconsin --> 7t (4-4)

Penn State --> 9 (2-6)
Wisconsin --> 3 (6-2)

Purdue --> 8 (3-5)
Illinois --> 11 (0-8)

Add in '06:
Purdue --> 4t (5-3)
Illinois --> 10t (1-7)

Combined record: 74-128 (36.6%)
Average place: 7.5 (note, I counted a 4t as 4.5 in all cases - three way ties get the benefit of the doubt and still only gain a half point, not a full point)

I didn't have time to pull in all the data for the other schools, so I don't know how many standard deviations away from the mean we are, but I'm guessing it's several. So firstly, it doesn't bode well for the fortunes of Indiana or Iowa next year.

However, I'm more interested in exactly why this keeps happening. Part of the reason is that the OSU game is protected and they usually finish near the top of the league. MSU is also protected and, aside from this year, they always finish in the middle. So that is probably PART of it, but that should go double for OSU considering they are protected against UM (best record over the time period) and PSU (third best record? Maybe fourth?). Yet, they missed Wisc this year and undefeated Iowa in '02. I suppose I would have to check out their entire schedule to be fair, but I don't have time right now.

My theory (might be a not-terrible one): Teams need to get fired up for the coming season early on in order to have a good year. We can look at Michigan this season for an example. As soon as Ecker was tackled by 38 Cornhuskers, every player on the team began preparation for a stellar 2006. And they delivered. [This email was sent before the Rose Bowl, if anyone takes issue with Andrew's characterization here. - ed.] So, perhaps when a team knows that Michigan is not on their schedule, they don't prepare as hard in the offseason, thinking that the schedule looks favorable. So they relax a bit and it costs them during the season. I dunno. Iowa over the next two years, missing UM and OSU will be interesting to watch. I just think that the data is too compelling to say it's just a random anomaly. But maybe that's all it is...
First, excellent work there. I tried to add up OSU and MSU's record over that timespan of 14 years and came up with impossible numbers. OSU came out as 86-26-1, which is one game extra, and despite reviewing the numbers like six times I got 50-66-1 for State, which is five games too many. Engineering, ladies and gentlemen!

In any case, our protected opponents are around 59.5% in the league, give or take a percentage point or two. Since OSU and MSU make up about 1/4th of our bye team's schedules (it's actually slightly less since occasionally a team will miss both MSU and UM or UM and OSU), the protected-games effect would explain our below-average bye opponents... if their average record was around a 46 or 47% winning clip. Thirty-six percent? Well, the football gods are angry at more than Michigan safeties, evidently.

As for your projected explanation... I don't buy it. I don't think the presence or absence of Michigan on the schedule is enough to explain things like going 0-8 in conference or whatever. Any reduced motivation because these crappy teams aren't going to get their heads kicked in by Michigan is offset by the prospect of getting away with one less hiding, IMO. Our consistently dreadful bye opponents is just the universe being bloody-minded.
Just thought I'd pass this along to you in case you haven't seen it. Gotta check out Zoltan Mesko's Facebook picture. Your Zoltan t-shirts and nicknames are hilarious, but honestly, it doesn't get much better then the man himself using the Facebook to promote his new, technologically advanced athletic prowess.

Oh, and if you check out the Facebook groups he belongs to, one of the first few that's listed is the "Official Facebook mgoblog Fan Club." Zoltan reads your site! OMG! Plus, the fact that you have a Facebook group dedicated to you with 22 members means, correct me if I'm wrong, that you have hit the big time.

And, yeah, I'm a 20 year-old college kid that doesn't even go to UM who sent an e-mail to an adult regarding an 18 or 19 year-old male's HILLLLARIOUS Facebook page. And there is NOTHING wrong with that.
I couldn't get to the Zoltan facebook page -- probably some bullcrap "laws" about "restraining orders" -- but Greg helpfully forwarded along "the Puntinator":

For those with poor eyesight, the left side reads "The Puntinator"; the right "My Mission Is To Pin You Deep." I have no insight to add here, except that's awesome.

This one is depressing.
After today's dispiriting loss, I went and looked -- I was actually at the last Michigan win in the Rose Bowl, 1/1/98. That was the last time I saw the Rose Bowl in person; obviously, it's my fault that Michigan hasn't won there since.

Then I kept looking. and found further proof that Lloyd Carr simply can't handle jet-lag. Here's the list of every game they've played since 1/1/98 west of Minneapolis:

W 11/28/98 @ Hawaii 48-17
L 09/16/00 @ UCLA 20-23 (damn Rose Bowl!)
L 09/08/01 @ U-Wash 18-23
L 09/20/03 @ Oregon 27-31
L 01/01/04 vs. USC -- Rose Bowl
L 01/01/05 vs. Texas -- Rose Bowl
L 12/28/05 vs. Nebraska -- Alamo Bowl
L 01/01/07 vs. USC -- Rose Bowl

So, yeah, 1-7 since the last Rose Bowl victory in games west of the furthest-west conference possibility. And the one victory was against powerhouse Hawaii, who finished without a single victory that year.

I'm not going to call for Carr's head. I like the guy. He's a Michigan man. But maybe he can miss the connection in Denver next time, eh?\

Yeah. The worst part is that many of those losses were flukefests: the UCLA game featured Hayden Epstein missing 27 yard field goals and an E3W headline -- "Epstein Picked Last At Kickball" -- commemorating the event that a football player snatched from one of my compatriot's hands and promised to show Epstein, mischievous gleam in his eye. We were about to go up two scores on Washington when they blocked a field goal and ran it back for a touchdown. The next play was a short out (IIRC) that the receiver batted into a DB's hands for another cheap touchdown. We dominated that game. *We* blocked a field goal for a touchdown against Oregon and still managed to lose the special teams battle by two touchdowns. The Texas game was a classic decided on the last play; it appeared that Shazor actually brushed Mangum's FGA with his elbow and, adding terrible unconsolable pain to injury, that the slightly deflected ball then went through Burgess' hands. Had Shazor's arm moved a centimeter either way, that field goal is blocked and everyone around these parts is a lot happier. (Let's not talk about [BOWL REDACTED].)

Right, this goes back to the Angry God thing.
What's up with people randomly posting comments on sports blogs in ALL

I meant to ask you this at the basketball game. It's like '94 when
AOL users were suddenly dropped into the depths of USENET.

It's just odd to me, because I read a lot of different types of blogs
and it's only the sports blogs where you see this type of thing (not
the sports forums, message boards, etc).

I hope you aren't referring to the commenters here, whose bad behavior usually consists of calling each other losers in the most high-faluting language available. If you're referring to The Fanhouse... well... AOL. I have to read every comment left to make sure that naughty words or tasteless jokes about Mario Danelo's death get deleted, and it makes me want to cry. I am often tempted to delete everything. But what can you do? Even the comments here took a sharp downward turn late in the season. I'm considering various schemes to combat drive-by OMG LOL flamers. It shouldn't be a problem in the offseason, but I need a button to push to cut down on the guys who spell lose "loose".
Isn't Firefox 2's integrated red-underline spellchecker the best thing ever?
Hells yes! Did I write that last one? Not tellin'.