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Hoegher's 2012 Previews: Minnesota Golden Gophers

NOTE: I usually plan on putting these out on Wednesday, but I got my homework done early and I want have to do my taxes tomorrow instead. So this one's coming early.

I have a confession: I'm (somewhat) of a Gophers fan. Coming from a Badger undergrad, I know this is blasphemous, I apologize. I grew up in Minnesota though, and I have a spot in my heart that likes to see my home state succeed (unlike those arsehole Packer fans, e.g. my twin brother). I was never a huge Golden Gopher fan, mostly because they were never that good and the Vikings occupied enough of my football attention, but it was always good to see them win. And that sentiment continues to this day. I'll cheer for Minnesota football and basketball (Except when they play the Badgers. Then they can go to Hell), and it wasn't that fun to see Tim Brewster tank their team into the ground. I hope that Jerry Kill can help bring them success on the field - again, except for winning any games against Wisconsin. My sentiment doesn't extend that far. JUMP.

Yearning for the Days of Glen Mason (Minnesota Performance 2005-2011)

2005-2011 Overall Rank

Figure 1: Minnesota Yearly FBS Rank (2005-2011)

2005-2011 Adj Off,Def

Figure 2: Minnesota Yearly Adj Off, Def Rank (2005-2011)

2005-2011 Win % and Luck

Figure 3: Minnesota Yearly Win % and Luck (2005-2011)

Well, color me shocked. Minnesota actually used to be pretty decent (way back in the days of 2005). I've typed in the scores of every game by hand for all these years, and it was surreal to see Minnesota blowing out opponents and posting up 40-50 pt scores for that year. That's not the Minnesota team I was used to from watching them during my college years. However, that was largely because they followed the Glen Mason model of cruising through their weak opponents and scratching by the tougher games of their schedule. They also benefitted from a strong Big Ten that year. Still, 14th in Adj Marg (18th in Adj Eff) and 5th in Adj Off is something to be proud of. Of course, after that year Laurence Maroney left for the NFL and it's been trending toward the dregs of the FBS since. 2007 was a year to forget, but any progress made in Tim Brewster WINFIGHTTRY subsequent years quickly diminished. Thus: Jerry Kill.

We Must Be Broken Before We Can Be Whole Again (Minnesota 2011 Season)

Minnesota 2011 Season Relevant Information
Record Luck Opp Rat rk Adj Off rk Adj Def rk Adj Eff rk Adj Marg rk
3-9 0.08 0.144 26 0.816 88 1.115 81 0.423 92 -0.299 91

(no bowl game)

NOTE: For whatever reason, my table images are saving to poor resolution. I did just install a new hard drive, so that may be part of it. You're getting the table in, well... tables. I'm not happy about it, because it makes all my formatting much more difficult to obtain.

First, let us note that Minnesota football wasn't good last year. Glad we got that out of the way. However, they weren't nearly the hopelessness that Indiana football was last year. As much fun as GopherQuest [LINK] was to follow last year for me (in its brief lifetime), they were quite clearly nowhere near Indiana's (basement, wait no... dungeon) level. They started the year off strong, playing well against a USC team (that may have not been the same team to start the year, but still was a team that the Gophers had no business being that close to beating), before falling off a cliff in losing to New Mexico State and North Dakota State. However, they improved drastically through the end of the year, to an extent that I was really impressed to see. Here's an illustration to... illustrate (I'm an engineering major for a reason):

Minnesota Weekly 2011 Performance

NOTE: This is the per-game Rel Marg (based on Rel Off and Rel Def) Minnesota put up last year. It's not as adjusted for opponent as Adj Marg is, but I think it gives a pretty good snapshot of Minnesota's improvement. Stuff above zero is good, stuff below zero is bad.

They played a difficult schedule (26th in the country, which is one of the only things I agree with what Tim Brewster did), managed to beat Iowa for the second year in a row, and showed growth through the year. There is a lot to be optimistic about for Minnesota. Unfortunately, they also brought about Ron Zook's firing, and for that I cannot forgive them. (Illinois fans might disagree)

KILL KILL KILL (Minnesota 2012 Preview and Projections)

Minnesota 2012 Projected Ratings
Adj Off rk Adj Def rk Adj Eff rk Adj Marg rk
0.873 80 1.131 85 0.436 85 -0.258 86

Minnesota 2012 Schedule and Projected Score Differentials
Week 1 Week 2 Week 3 Week 4 Week 5 Week 6 Week 7
W/L UNLV W/L FCS W/L W-Mich W/L 'Cuse W/L Iowa W/L BYE W/L jNW
1 11.7 1 17.9 (-1) (-2.7) (-1) (-2.4) (-1) (-11.4) 0 0.0 (-1) (-4.4)
Week 8 Week 9 Week 10 Week 11 Week 12 Week 13 Week 14
W/L Wisc W/L Purdue W/L Mich W/L Illinois W/L Nebby W/L MichSt W/L BYE
(-1) (-24.8) (-1) (-6.1) (-1) (-22.2) (-1) (-10.0) (-1) (-16.9) (-1) (-19.3) 0 0.0

NOTE: The numbers below each opponent indicate the projected score differential. Numbers in parentheses are negative (as indicated), other numbers are positive (as indicated). So Minnesota is projected to beat UNLV by 11.7 points. They will do this by kicking a field goal, hitting the upright, and splitting the ball in two parts, one of which goes through.

Avg Opp Rank: 55.4 (Avg Non-Con: 95.7, Avg Conf: 35.2)

Final Record: 2-10 (0-8), Avg MOV: -7.6 pts, Bowl Prediction: [no bowl]

Okay, it still doesn't look great. That's what happens when you have a sustained period of not-good-ness: things don't tend to look optimistic. But there are a few things that my numbers can't account for, probably the biggest one being second year coaching bumps. Hell, even Tim Brewster managed to improve (pretty significantly, too) from his first year to his second. (see the plot above) I have to believe that Jerry Kill is a better coach than Tim Brewster. I HAVE TO.

Neither the offense or defense is projected to really be a weakness (Adj Off, Def - 80th, 85th), though if I had to guess, I'd assume the defense may be lagging the offense next season by a bit more than the numbers indicate. Marqueis Gray may not be the best passer*, but he can clearly run like the chickens (<- I may have mixed up that expression, but chickens are tough to catch in the open). I‘m interested to see what Jerry Kill can do with his talent and speed.

*except when he plays Iowa

Also: the schedule is not nearly as daunting as last year (not that New Mexico State was daunting either but... HUSH NOW). Starting off the season with two comfortable wins should be a nice confidence booster to... start (again, not an English major). Western Michigan and Syracuse are projected losses but with just margins of 2.7 and 2.4 pts (respectively) projected, those are toss-ups. And those games are at home, huzzah!

In fact, all of the toss-up games on this schedule (Western Michigan, Syracuse, Northwestern, and Purdue) are at home. That is extremely fortuitous for the Golden Gophers and it's not inconceivable [LINK TO PRINCESS BRIDE] that they go undefeated in those games. (Indiana, I'm sorry you weren't so lucky).

YAY

Best case for Minnesota: I'm going to be optimistic on you Gophers. I'm throwing the Iowa game into your toss-ups. Yes, it's at Iowa, but you've defeated them the past two years, so I'm giving you credit for that. However, of your five toss-ups (WMich, Syr, jNW, Pur, Iowa), I'm only going to give you a best-case scenario of 4 wins in there. I think that's fair. But you know what? That's bowl eligibility! That's a 6-6 (2-6) record. Do I think that is likely? No, but that's why it's called "best case."

BOO

Worst case for Minnesota: Marqueis Gray breaks his leg, the Gophers suffer a loss to UNLV (at UNLV) and they go winless in conference for a 1-10 (0-8) record. However, that really is a worst case. I have too much faith in Jerry Kill and the schedule breaks too well for them for that to be anything but the matter of something extremely unlikely. Prove my faith well-placed Gophers!

Don't get me wrong, there will still probably be some brutal games (ideally, when they play Wisconsin). But Jerry Kill has installed some confidence on this team, and I look forward to the day soon when the Gophers are no longer an opponent that teams overlook. Ski-U-Mah Minnesota! (did I do that right?)

-hoegher

Glossary and Explanation of Terms!

For the purposes of this section, I will refer to Average State University (ASU). ASU scores 25 pts/game on offense, gives up 25 pts/game on defense, and has an Adj Off, Def of 1.00 and 1.00, respectively.

Adj Off - a measure of a team's scoring offense, adjusted for schedule. A team with an Adj Off of 2.00 would be expected to score 50 pts on ASU. A team with an Adj Off of 0.50 would be expected to score 12-13 pts on ASU.

Adj Def - a measure of a team's scoring defense, adjusted for schedule. A team with an Adj Def of 2.00 would be expected to give up 50 pts to ASU. A team with and Adj Def of 0.50 would be expected to hold ASU to 12-13 pts.

Adj Eff - a measure of a team's overall strength, AdjEff = AdjOff/(AdjOff + AdjDef). A perfect rating would be 1.00, a perfectly bad rating would be 0.00, a perfectly average rating would be 0.50. This rating tends to reward teams with good defenses more than good offenses.

Adj Marg - a measure of a team's overall strength, AdjMarg = AdjOff - AdjDef. A good rating would be > 0.00, a bad rating would be < 0.00, a perfectly average rating would be 0.00. This rating tends to reward teams with good offenses more than good defenses.

(NOTE: While I list both Adj Eff and Adj Marg as measures of overall team strength, the "official" rankings are Adj Marg, as I find it tends (usually) to be a slightly better predictor of game results than Adj Eff.)

Opp Rat - the average rating of a team's opponents, as determined by Adj Marg. A relatively difficult schedule will have OppRat > 0.00, a relatively easy schedule will have OppRat < 0.00, a perfectly average schedule will have OppRat = 0.00.

Luck - the difference between a team's expected winning percentage (based on schedule and expected scores) and their actual winning percentage. Luck > 0.00 indicates that a team won more games than they were expected, Luck < 0.00 means that a team won less games than ther were expected.

Projected Scores - these are based on a team's Adj Off, Def and their opponent's Adj Off, Def. I won't bore you with the math or reasoning, but suffice to say that expected scores align uniformly with the Adj Marg rankings. The expected score differential is proportional to the Adj Marg differential.

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