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Hoegher's 2012 Season Reviews: THE SLIGHTLY MOLDY UPPER CRUST

I was thinking of something to say and then Jesse had this to say recently:

These graphs look pretty, but... sometimes they just seem like they are stating the obvious (you know, like the part where we grade MSU's offense out as terrible).

so I thought I'd comment on that. Sometimes, yes: it seems like these numbers and graphs jsut state the obvious. That's good, though! It'd be a bit weird if they always revealed a "hidden truth" about teams. Yeah, turns out Colorado was the best team in the nation, just really unlucky. Who knew, right? If I hope these to have validity, it should support the "good teams" and poo-poo the "bad teams" most of the time. The value in these (WARNING: "value" may be counterfeit) more comes from trying to evaluate teams deeper than just their won-loss record, which I think too many sportswriters look at as their be-all and end-all. That's where looking at Ohio State and Louisville come in and we can say: "yeah those teams probably aren't as good as we think."

Of course, those teams went un-defeated and beat down Florida, respectively. So maybe I'm not as smart as I'd like to think :)

NORTHWESTERN

Pre-Season Guess-timates

Conf Record Luck (wins) rk Adj Off rk Adj Def rk Adj Eff rk Adj Marg rk
B10 6-6 (projections) 1.086 44 1.042 74 0.510 61 0.044 60

Actual Season Results

Conf Record Luck (wins) rk Adj Off rk Adj Def rk Adj Eff rk Adj Marg rk
B10 10-3 +0.5 36 1.297 22 0.820 41 0.613 27 0.477 24

Northwestern Weekly Performance

Northwestern Weekly Ranking

Needless to say, this will not go down as one of my more accurate guess from the pre-season. Sorry for doubting you Cats, but I think I can be forgiven. I don't think anyone had Northwestern getting 10 wins this year. Congratulations for that accomplishment and congratulations that you managed to do it with a coach that has no plans on leaving you. Fortuitous turn of events with that one. Obviously, there's a number of things that I could talk about, but I'll focus on just two that stood out to me.

1) I didn't think Northwestern had a bad defense, but I was surprised to see that they only had two sub-par outings. Week 1 against Syracuse (which was Week 1 so whatevs) and Week 6 against Penn State where the game just got away from them in the 4th quarter. This actually was so surprising to me that I went and checked their ranking here against Football Outsiders actual-professional-stats, but they come in at 48th on defense there (within a reasonable distance of their 41st defensive ranking here). With a decent amount of returning starters, hopefully the Wizgeralds can keep that success going.

TWO) Northwestern had a positive "Luck" rating again (+0.5 wins, or +4%), as per usual. What's a bit surprising is that it isn't higher, considering that a 10 win season just happened. Over the past decade, Northwestern has posted "Luck" ratings of +10%, +15%, +13%, +10%, +10%, +7%, and +9%. Even in those first two years of college football in 1995 and 1996, Northwestern posted +11%, +17%, respectively. The point is that Northwestern has had some success recently, but it usually involves them pulling a few wins out of their proverbial ass. That their rating was just +4% this year indicates that this team was actually that talented and fully deserved each and every win they put up (unlike some other teams in the conference... I won't name names, but they have a definite article). Again, with so many returning starters, including both QB's and wonder-back Venric Mark, Northwestern has plenty of reason for optimism next year.

Early 2013 outlook? My pre-season ranking won't reflect this, because Northwestern spent the past few years over-achieving and only just sneaked into my Top 25 this year, but I think Northwestern has a good chance to end 2013 as a Top 20 quality squad. Top 10 is probably reaching a bit, but Fitzgerald's outkicked his coverage before. 9 wins with an outside chance at a division title (this probably depends on a few Michigan injuries and Andrew Maxwell to continue being Andrew Maxwell).

MICHIGAN

Pre-Season Guess-timates

Conf Record Luck (wins) rk Adj Off rk Adj Def rk Adj Eff rk Adj Marg rk
B10 8-4 (projections) 1.274 19 0.797 32 0.615 23 0.477 21

Actual Season Results

Conf Record Luck (wins) rk Adj Off rk Adj Def rk Adj Eff rk Adj Marg rk
B10 8-5 -0.6 87 1.224 31 0.698 21 0.637 18 0.526 19

Michigan Weekly Performance

Michigan Weekly Ranking

Should I talk about how Michigan was likely under-rated in 2012, and that their losses came against four teams with a combined record of 48-4 (plus Nebraska)? The answer is, of course, FVCK MICHIGAN. Let's talk about defense.

I'm going to pat myself on the back for correctly predicting that Michigan's defense would come back down to earth a bit after a surprising turn-around in 2011. They didn't regress quite as much as I had said, but GERG Robinson will throw a wrench in those calculations. C'est le vie. But that's not what I'm interested in. What I want to know is this: where did this "Michigan Defense = elite" notion come from?

I heard this all during season, and all I could do was stare at my Excel sheets with a confused look on my face. The Wolverine's defense was solid. It was a nice guy with a steady middle-management job you can feel safe bringing home to meet the parents. It was not the equivalent of dating a world-acclaimed neuro-surgeon (to torture this metaphor a bit further). Michigan's three best performances on defense came against Illinois (doesn't count), Purdue (doesn't count), and Notre Dame (a team that was not known for an elite offense, though with the rate that Denard kept throwing up interceptions, perhaps I should give this more credit).

Perhaps I'm harping a bit too much on this, because I think this cooled a bit after their bowl loss and people had time to reflect, but it was one of the more infuriating things about the 2012 season. Nothing frustrates me more than hearing a "fact" repeated over and over despite ample evidence that it is simply not true. Okay, I'm done now.

Early 2013 outlook? I may end up regretting this, because Michigan loses a decent amount of starters from both sides of the ball. However, they retain their quarterback, which is by far the most important factor (not-with-standing the Russell Wilson Exception), and Brady Hoke has recruited well enough the past few years where the pain of attrition should be softened. I think that Michigan is going to be representing the Big Ten West in Indianapolis next year. Of course, I said that last year and instead we saw Nebraska get turned into a smoking crater, so obviously this comes with grains of natrium chloride.

OHIO STATE

Pre-Season Guess-timates

Conf Record Luck (wins) rk Adj Off rk Adj Def rk Adj Eff rk Adj Marg rk
B10 8-4 (projections) 1.108 37 0.594 4 0.651 12 0.515 19

Actual Season Results

Conf Record Luck (wins) rk Adj Off rk Adj Def rk Adj Eff rk Adj Marg rk
B10 12-0 +2.7 2 1.358 17 0.816 39 0.625 21 0.542 16

Ohio State Weekly Performance

Ohio State Weekly Ranking

Wait a sec, put down your pitchforks and let me explain why Ohio State wasn't tops in the Big Ten. Urban Meyer is an ass-hole, so screw him. Wait, that's not it. Okay here it is:

alpha) Ohio State was, shall we say, blessed with the luck of a leprechaun holding a part of a dead rabbit. They actually weren't my luckiest team of 2012, and no: Notre Dame was not the team ahead of them (actually Middle Tennessee, who knew?). The Buckeyes did land at 2nd though, with a +2.7 win rating. Meaning they probably should have gone 9-3 or 10-2 this season instead of undefeated. 6-0 in one possession games (including 2-0 in over-time games against Purdue and some other team that escapes my mind at the moment) is not a sustainable pattern. And these were hardly great teams that took them to the wire. Michigan was clearly the best of the bunch, but California (3-9), Michigan State (7-6), Purdue (6-7), Indiana (4-8), and that other team that I can't quite remember (8-6): you should beat them by double digits, not single scores. Your luck is what you make of it, though... so there's that!

10 - binary) Nebraska had a tougher schedule than Ohio State and it wasn't close. This isn't to say Ohio State played an easy schedule. According to these numbers, it was slightly better than average. But Nebraska had a schedule ranked among the 25 toughest, which is why they were able to over-come (multiple) embarrassing defeats to edge out Ohio State for the best in the Big Ten here. Still the same number of bowl wins, though.

Early 2013 outlook? I'm pretty confident that leprechaun Urban Meyer has locked up is going to die of exposure soon, so Ohio State isn't going undefeated again. They also lose quite a bit on defense, and we've seen what can happen when Meyer loses defensive talent, even if his offense hums along beautifully (see: 2007 Florida). So it would be tempting to pick against the Buckeyes. However, the Big Ten is not the SEC, and so I'm guessing a 10-11 win season is still in store for Meyer. Shoot me now, ugh.

NEBRASKA

Pre-Season Guess-timates

Conf Record Luck (wins) rk Adj Off rk Adj Def rk Adj Eff rk Adj Marg rk
B10 8-5 (projections) 1.179 28 0.769 25 0.605 24 0.410 27

Actual Season Results

Conf Record Luck (wins) rk Adj Off rk Adj Def rk Adj Eff rk Adj Marg rk
B10 10-4 +0.1 55 1.509 9 0.912 56 0.623 23 0.598 14

Nebraska Weekly Performance

Nebraska Weekly Ranking

I'm going to ask y'all to do something you might disagree with, but try to hear me out. Forget about the Ohio State and Wisconsin (PART DEUX) games. What is your impression of Nebraska now? They still aren't a stellar team, sure. But their defense no longer evokes the image of a flaming pile of kittens, either. Ignoring those games, Nebraska would come out ranked ~25th here, which is actually right around what the professionals at Football Outsiders had them as (29th in Def F/+). Now, they still played those games, so it would be a bit disingenuous to ignore those awful performances, but the point is that Nebraska was probably not as bad on defense as we think.

The offense on the other hand had a very fine year. The only poor performance came against Iowa, and it's not really fair when the NCAA allowed Miami to take the field that day as well (Miami Hurricanes, get it? ... okay I'm not as clever as I thought). Taylor Martinez still looked like a bag of ass when he threw the ball, but the thing that matters more is what happens when the ball returns to earth and those events were much prettier for the Cornhuskers. When he wasn't injured, Rex Burkhead did his thing, which was be a solid workhorse back while receiving far too many screams of adoration from the Big Red fans, and the final result was a Top 10 offense (and still four losses for PeLLLLini).

Early 2013 outlook? I continue to think Michigan will probably be the class of the Big Ten West division, but Nebraska's schedule gets much easier next year. So it's possible that they will challenge for the division title, but I think they'll ultimately fall short. 9-3 (and we all know what the bowl result will be) is my guess as of now.

NEXT WEEK: Nothing! Football is over, time for me to be productive* y'all!

* Productivity is subject to interpretation.

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