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Friday Musings + Northwestern Prediction

October 7, 2011

 

Happy 35th Birthday To Charles Woodson

College Football Rankings are a Joke – With Michigan skyrocketing in both the ESPN Coaches Poll and AP poll this week, I thought I’d address what I think has become a misconception of what college football rankings have become.  Originally, college football rankings were meant to be just that, a ranking of the best college football teams.  Before the internet, I remember turning to the inside front page of the Lansing State Journal to see the latest rankings every Tuesday AM.  Back then, the rankings somewhat made sense, as teams were ranked on ability how good they are.  In recent years, it seems that the rankings now represent a snapshot of the likelihood of a particular team to play for the BCS Championship.  Since you basically have to go unbeaten to play for the BCS title, the rankings serve as a barometer of who is making the most progress towards that goal.  When a team ahead of you loses (even if that team loses to a higher ranked team by 1 point), that team generally drops a few slots – even though they performed as expected.  This past week, Michigan vaulted up the rankings because several teams ahead of them lost.  Is Michigan better than those teams?  Probably not all of them.  But until we lose, we will continue to rise in the rankings.  It’s just the way things work.  So the next time you wonder about the rankings – try to remember that they are a tool used to pick the #1 and #2 team in the country at the end of the season, not a true look at who the Top 25 teams are.  And frankly, unless you end up #1 or #2 in the final polls, it doesn’t really matter where you are. 

A Different Kind of Five and Oh – For the 2nd straight year, Michigan has started 5-0, and due to the epic collapses of the last 2 years, I gather that many fans are tempering their excitement because they fear that another fall off of a cliff is imminent.  While I won’t suggest that we will win the rest of our games, somehow this 5-0 feels different from last years.  Maybe it’s because while we won our first 5 games last year, we did so with a defense that gave up 37 points to UMass and 35 points to Indiana.  Last year’s squad may also have started this year with a perfect record, but I guarantee they would have given up a lot more than 10 points in the last 3 games.  For me, that’s where the optimism lies.  The offense, while maybe not quite as potent as last year, is still solid.  But the defense and special teams are leaps and bounds better than they were last year.  Sometimes it’s not just about whether you win, but how you win.  Michigan has looked like a very good football team for the last 3 games, rather than just scraping by as they did in 2010.  There will be some head scratching moments in the weeks to come, but there is no doubt in my mind that we will not fall victim to an epic collapse like we did the last couple of years. Don’t be afraid to let your hair down and buy this team – we’re on our way. 

Silly Stats – Last night on Twitter, BTNStats threw out a stat I would have been happier not knowing.  Apparently Bo Schembechler, Gary Moeller, Lloyd Carr and Rich Rodriguez all won their first Big Ten game in their first year, and then promptly lost their second Big Ten game.  Given that I’m relatively confident about our game tomorrow, I was not pleased to know that history is not on our side.  Looking a little deeper, Bo lost his game @MSU, and Moeller lost his at home to MSU while ranked #1 in the country when Eddie Brown tripped Desmond Howard on a 2 pt conversion.  Lloyd Carr lost his 2nd game while playing Northwestern of all teams, and did so at home.  And Rich Rodriguez got pounded at home against Illinois a week after the biggest comeback in Michigan Stadium history against Wisconsin.  There doesn’t seem to be any common thread to these games, other than that they were all the 2nd Big Ten game for each coach.  Bo lost on the road, and the other 3 were at home.  The only common opponent was MSU.  What does it mean for tomorrow?  Probably nothing.  Except to serve as a reminder that anything can happen.  A #1 team at home can lose to an unranked MSU team.  And even Bo had a few slipups in his day. 

PREDICTION

This Northwestern team is a little difficult to figure out.  They are 2-2, with a loss to an average Army team and a squeaker of a win against a bad Boston College team (so bad that they lost to Duke).   But that was without quarterback Dan Persa, a guy Northwestern put a Heisman campaign together for in the preseason.  The only problem is that Persa is clearly not 100% after rupturing his Achilles tendon last year.  He left the Illinois game for precautionary reasons, but given that it was a rivalry game that was  close, he must have been concerned about something to remove himself from the game.  I think he’ll play tomorrow, but whether he is 100% physically and mentally is a different story.  If Michigan can get pressure on him early and force him to run, throw, and get hit, hopefully they can get in his head. 

So far this year Michigan has done a great job of winning the turnover battle, controlling the clock, and scoring in the red zone.  In fact, last week when they took a knee against Minnesota in the closing seconds was the first time they failed to score in the red zone all season.  Even if it’s just Northwestern, they are going to have to do keep doing that in order to win this game.  Normally I’d be concerned about a road game, but the majority of these guys have played on the road, and Ryan Field usually has about 30% of the stands filled with Michigan fans anyways who make the trip up from Chicago. 

This won’t be as easy or clean as Minnesota, not by a long shot.  But I think eventually Michigan wears down Northwestern and pulls away. 

Michigan 31

Northwestern 20

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