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Wednesday, May 21, 2008


As an alum who witnessed mid 90s success but has suffered through the last few years of football stagnation, is it premature to be excited by this early recruiting success by Rodriguez? I know Lloyd and staff were relatively strong in the recruiting department, but it seems like a new kind of athlete is being recruited by this staff - the speedy dread-locked guys that may not translate that well to the pros but cause hell in college. With Barwis and the early recruiting returns I am more excited about Michigan football than I have been since 97 through 2003, when I really believed Michigan could contend for national titles every year. Basically, I am asking, even before Rodriguez has even coached a game, if there is some momentum in this program. Is Michigan becoming the new "hot" destination for recruits, ala USC, LSU, and Florida the past 8 years, or is this just my hopeful bias acting up?

Well... no on the "hot destination." Don't get me wrong, Michigan is doing well on the recruiting trail and has locked up all manner of exciting skill position players, but you'd be hard pressed to separate Michigan's results to date from their results the last several years under Carr. Michigan's recruiting of late (numbers, as per usual, are Rivals'):

YearRankStar Avg

(2003 is perhaps the best example I can find of how screwed up the recruiting sites' team rankings are. Michigan finished a lowly 17th that year despite raking in Lamarr Woodley, Prescott Burgess, Leon Hall, Shawn Crable, and others. Michigan had two five-stars, eleven four-stars, and just four guys with two or three stars, one of whom was a kicker. They finished behind Oklahoma State's class of 31 losers and Cal's class of 28 non-losers. Those teams had eight four-stars between them. In 59 players. WTF?)

You can see the epidemic of southern oversigning and attrition in the disparity between Michigan's class rating and their star average. Every year save 2005 -- an unusually large class of 23 -- was better in the latter metric, usually by a significant margin. Over the time span listed here, Michigan finished between 6th and 7th nationally in star average. It would be hard to improve that in any meaningful way without kicking MSU into the MAC.

However, the point about the little guys with dreads is an apt one even if none of the guys we've reeled in actually have dreads. Guys like Odoms and Robinson and (Pitt signee) Cameron Saddler are routinely downgraded for their size. If Rodriguez can regularly take little three-star guys and get five-star production out of them, Michigan could start to outperform their recruiting rankings. Or, like, just perform to them. That is the Barwis hope in a nutshell.

The other side of the coin:
Hello Brian,

I've been noticing Ohio State's recruiting of late. They're starting to look
like a Midwestern USC, as one of my friends pointed out. Could you
please discuss this topic?

Maybe a little. Last year they were third in star average, the year before that fifth, and
this year they're off to an extremely strong start. If the smug truckers with names like "BucksLOL!!1!" on their message boards are right -- and since internet confidence usually trickles down from insiders on high, they probably are -- they're the favorite to reel in another set of OMG shirtless sorts. This is a slight improvement on their results from earlier in the decade.

But this is nothing particularly new. Ohio State and, except for a period when Willingham was incredibly inept, Notre Dame have always recruited well. The numbers above show that Michigan has, too. It will always come down to coaching. And luck.*

Anyone expecting Ohio State to drop off in the near future is going to be disappointed. Tressel is 55 and at least ten years from falling off into Bowden-Paterno senescence. They're going to be a power. Michigan is hoping for Ten Year War II.

*(consider how differently this Tressel-Carr thing looks if 1) Drew Henson doesn't sign a baseball contract, 2) Braylon Edwards doesn't get a dodgy offensive PI call in the 2002 game, 3) Carr goes for it on third and four in the 2005 game, and 4) Chad Henne's shoulder exists in 2007. You figure #1 is a clear win and Michigan probably takes one of the other three, which would put the Tressel-Carr record at .500. Thin margins, always.)

On the APR:

I attended Central Michigan, until I graduated last year. My first two years there I was one of the "lucky" kids who wasn't able to get into the normal dorms, and instead was put in the athletes dorm. Basically, I got to know many of the football players on CMU. Many of those guys left before their 4/5 years was up, but it had nothing to do with the reasons you outlined (money) as to why small schools suffered in the APR.

First, especially at the time, CMU wasn't a known football power. Kids want to be loved, respected, and have some sort of fame. Yet, when you play at a bad MAC school or something, nobody cares. It isnt a big campus with 80,000 people every Saturday. They dont see themselves on TV a whole lot, and when are on TV, nobody pays attention to them. Players at the bigger school have much more incentive to stay because they are better players, have more fame, and have more going for them.

Next, many of the kids schools in the MAC, Mountain West, etc. recruit aren't from the area. CMU has their share of Michigan kids, but needs to recruit kids a whole hell of a lot more from Florida, Georgia, etc. than schools like Michigan and MSU do. Thats because the talent pool isn't as big in Michigan, and Michigan and MSU scoop all the talent up. CMU and other MAC schools needs to get players from the south so they can compete. This is hard though because not only will those kids have the same problems as I stated in the previous paragraph, but they are waaaaay more likely to get homesick and leave. I saw many time where CMU would recruit a kid from inner city Miami, then redshirt him. The kid isn't happy being redshirted, has trouble adjusting to a MAC town, and then once that first snowfall and bad weater hits, boom, they are outta here for Christmas break and never return.

It is just very hard for teams in smaller conferences to retain players than it is for bigger schools. Yes, sometimes it may have to do with what you said, but that is a lot smaller of the percentage. I can see why you feel that way since you went to a big school. However, until you attend a smaller school and see the disadvantage first hand and hear it and see it from many of the players you are friends with, then you don't really know the whole story.
Central Michigan, though it was one of the teams to get hit by APR penalties, was not one of the teams referenced when I was advocating for I-A to get 20 teams smaller. When not coached by Mike Debord, Central is one of the better teams in the MAC and has the resources to compete at a reasonable level. They'll get their scores up soon and will avoid serious punishment.

I don't have much sympathy for smaller schools even if it's tougher for them to keep scores up for reasons beyond their control. You can make an argument that a player at Michigan or Oklahoma or wherever is being completely reasonable when he puts everything into being an NFL caliber football player. Not so much at San Jose State, where any kid who flames out is going to be lifting boxes.

Yesterday, I mentioned that WVU's possessions were some way short of what seemed like an average number, but I didn't go back and calculate those numbers myself. A reader chips in:
Hi Brian,

I've been an avid reader of your blog for quite some time and appreciate all the work you do. I post under this handle on Rivals premium and Scout free boards. I'm also an amateur nerd and play with numbers in my free time. One such venture was to calculate the scoring efficiency of certain offenses. Specifically, I calculated the points per drive of the Michigan offense (and others.. did this during the coaching search) over the past 4-5 years using data available from the ESPN website (it's good for something). An offense that scores 35 ppg while reducing the game to 10 possessions per team is more dangerous than the offense that racks up the same total but expands the total number of possessions in the game (Purdue, Cal).

Obviously the flaw in this research is that some offenses try to build a small lead then sit on the ball while others simply try to score as much as possible. However, I found it to be an interesting endeavor nonetheless. To do the calculation I counted the number of "meaningful" drives (I excluded the apparent take-a-knee-before-the-end-of-the-half drives) and counted only offensive points. Throwing out pick-sixes and punt-return TDs was difficult since they do affect the thinking of the offense, but ultimately they're not the result of the offense.

I have all this data broken down on a spreadsheet into the single game performances, but here are the year-long results...

'07 Michigan -- 13.2 drives/gm, 27.2 off ppg, 2.07 pts per drive (ppd), 2:16 per drive (TOP)
'06 Michigan -- 12.6 drives/gm, 27.2 off ppg, 2.15 ppd, 2:39 per drive
'05 Michigan -- 12.8 drives/gm, 27.0 off ppg, 2.12 ppd, 2:29 per drive
'04 Michigan -- 13.0 drives/gm, 28.1 off ppg, 2.16 ppd, 2:28 per drive
'03 Michigan -- 12.2 drives/gm, 32.5 off ppg, 2.65 ppd, 2:38 per drive
'02 Michigan -- 12.8 drives/gm, 27.2 off ppg, 2.13 ppd

'07 West Virginia -- 12.6 drives/gm, 38.5 off ppg, 3.05 ppd, 2:23 per drive
'06 West Virginia -- 11.2 drives/gm, 39.6 off ppg, 3.55 ppd, 2:46 per drive
'05 West Virginia -- 11.8 drives/gm, 28.3 off ppg, 2.41 ppd, 2:38 per drive
'04 West Virginia -- 12.3 drives/gm, 27.8 off ppg, 2.26 ppd, 2:23 per drive
'03 West Virginia -- 13.0 drives/gm, 27.3 off ppg, 2.10 ppd, 2:12 per drive

The Florida spread-option...

'07 Florida -- 11.2 drives/gm, 40.3 off ppg, 3.61 ppd, 2:41 per drive
'06 Florida -- 11.1 drives/gm, 27.4 off ppg, 2.46 ppd, 2:48 per drive
'05 Florida -- 11.8 drives/gm, 24.8 off ppg, 2.09 ppd, 2:46 per drive

Ultimately, I think RRod's offense will reduce the avg number of possessions by 0.5-1.0 per game. While Carr's offense was good at eating up clock, I think a lot of that had to do with the defense giving them the ball back. The offense neither reduced the number of possessions nor sat on the ball particularly long when they got the ball.

Jokewood (Nathan)
The "13 or 14" cited in the UFR appears to be a little high. Over the spans provided here, Michigan averaged 12.7 drives per game; West Virginia averaged 12.2. The PPD numbers show that West Virginia's performance against Rutgers (3.44 PPD against a top-twenty scoring defense) was statistically excellent, if reached a little flukily.