Sunday, July 22, 2012

A Rivals Perspective

Here I will outline the case for why MSU fans should temper expectations for 2012.  I'll admit before I start that I'm taking a very pessimistic stance, (or is that optimistic as a Michigan fan?)

Below are 3 reasons MSU fans should be leery of 2012.

#1: Luck Always Runs Out

The Spartans have enjoyed tremendous success under Mark Dantonio the past two seasons.  After a losing record in 2009, MSU won a share of the B1G title while winning 11 games in 2010.

The magical 2010 season included the "Little Giants" victory over Notre Dame, a  miraculous (2 TD's in the final 2 minutes) victory over Northwestern and another amazing comeback (aided by a blocked punt) to beat a bad Purdue team after trailing by 11 in the 4th quarter.   Momentum came to a screeching halt when the Spartans got their teeth knocked in by Alabama in the bowl game. Still, 2010 was a banner year with a share of the Big Ten title and an 11-2 record but the Spartans won every close game in which they competed while being blown off the field in both losses.

Along came 2011 and the MSU good fortune continued.  Right up until the B1G championship game, MSU once again never fell in a close game.  They were beaten soundly by Notre Dame and smothered by Nebraska while winning on Hail Mary against Wisconsin and beating Ohio State 10-7 in what was the most abysmal display of offense ever seen.  MSU built on their great season with an overtime victory over Georgia, this time getting revenge on the SEC.

It's easy to look at all this and realize MSU has maximized their win totals the previous two seasons.  They have played good football, but 11-2, 11-3?  Those records were only possible with very good fortune.  And the thing about always runs out.

#2: Paper Tiger Defense

Michigan State finished the season as the 5th ranked defense in the country (yards per game) and the 9th ranked defense (points per game).  These gaudy statistics, combined with returning talent (which we have been outlining for you in our defensive position group previews) has Spartans believing their defense is going to shut down errbody.  But not so fast my friend, before crowing MSU's D as one of the best in the country, let's take a look at that 2011 schedule more closely. 

Below is the Spartans schedule followed by their opponents offensive rank (ypg) for 2011.

Youngstown State - Mediocre 6-5 FCS team. Stats unavailable for FCS.
Florida Atlantic - 120th
Notre Dame - 35th
Central Michigan - 57th
Ohio State - 107th
Michigan - 42nd
Wisconsin - 14th
Nebraska - 66th
Minnesota - 110th
Iowa - 76th
Indiana - 83rd
Northwestern - 34th
Wisconsin - 14th
Georgia - 39th

MSU faced a top 25 offense (Wisconsin) only twice all season.  They faced a top 50 offense in only 6 out of 14 contests on the season.  On the other side of the coin, they played against 3 teams that finished in the bottom 20 for offense including the worst offensive team in the entire country, along with an FCS foe that isn't listed but certainly had a listless offense. 

This isn't to mention the tornado like winds during games with Ohio State, Michigan and Nebraska diminishing each teams offense in those games, or the fact that when MSU played Ohio State they were still starting and playing Joe Bauserman at quarterback.

The case above is pretty clear: MSU's defensive statistics and the so-called dominance of their defense were both greatly exaggerated by playing extremely poor offensive teams. 

#3: Kirk Cousins

What do the 2009 and 2012 Spartan teams have in common? 
A first year starting QB.

MSU entered 2009 with Keith Nichol and Kirk Cousins battling for the starting position.  That season ended with a 6-7 record.  This season things are more clear as Andrew Maxwell is the clear cut leader of the Spartans offense.  Still, Cousins leadership, dependability, play making and starting experience all have contributed mightily to MSU's success the last two seasons.  He's gone.  It will be a new guy leading that offense in the huddle, changing plays at the line of scrimmage and facing Big Ten road crowds.  Would MSU have won with a first year starting QB at Ohio State last year?  Would they have won on Hail Mary against Wisconsin?  Could they have defeated Georgia?  The loss of Cousins is going to diminish the effectiveness of the offenses and make things as simple as play calling more difficult.  Maxwell has talent but he's barely seen the field.  Expect his inexperience to cost MSU in at least a game or two this season.  Maxwell may someday be a star, but it will be difficult for him to keep quarterback play on the same level it has been the last two seasons in East Lansing and college football, after all, is all about the QB.

Do the Math

(I probably just lost any Spartans readers at that header...)

A team with an overrated defense and an inexperienced quarterback which has been pumped up by luck in numerous close games sees it all come crashing back to earth this season.


  1. I am taking the lack of rebuttal here to mean you are all in agreement with my assessment.

    1. you know I have a day job. Yes I have today off, but I still have to do work. FML. (but thank you Michigan State University education for allowing me to get a job in my major.)

    2. in researching my own post on this subject. LSU had the 86th ranked offense, behind the likes of Ball St. UTEP and CMU. they lost in the national championship game.

      And stats are available for FCS teams. Youngstown totaled 5045 yards or 458.64 yards per game which would place them 19th among FBS teams. Above such schools as USC, Alabama and Michigan.

      Do I really need to write a whole rebuttal? OK this will have to be it

      How about this for paper tiger. On October 15th, 2011 MSU held um to 250 total yards, somewhere between 3 and 4 yards per play. In that game, um rushed 36 times for 82 yards. During a stretch in the middle of the game, um punted 7 consecutive times. MSU had 7 sacks for -62 yards. MSU had a 39 yard pick 6 in the fourth quarter.

      To quote Mike Tyson's Punch Out, "a kitten is not match for a tiger." Even if that tiger is paper.

  2. Luck? When preparation meets opportunity? Sounds like UM fans are having a hard time accepting that there is another quality team near the top of the B1G.

    I'll leave you with a quote:

    "When the debate(game) is lost, slander becomes the tool of the loser"

  3. Finally some discussion, I like it.

    First let's decimate TBone's rebuttal.

    So your point is LSU was successful despite a bad offense? Or are you saying yardage statistics don't matter? In fact, they LOST the championship game specifically because of the aforementioned poor offense. Either way, how does this apply to MSU's D?

    Sure, stats are available somewhere for FCS teams, but they aren't included with FBS stats because they aren't applicable because FCS teams play a schedule against other FCS teams. If your argument is that Youngstown State was a good offense therefore MSU's D was impressive for shutting them down all I can say is Ha.

    Yes, MSU shut down Michigan. They put 8 (often 9) in the box and dared Denard to beat them through the air in a trash tornado. He failed to do so. But this is exactly the point of my post, circumstances other than simply talent and performance have led to an inflation of MSU's defensive statistics and thus an inflation of hype surrounding MSU's D for 2012.

    And for Joe O. Preparation met opportunity when when Schram snapped the ball over my head, Petterson threw it you in the back of the end zone and you got clobbered before the ball got to you by a Boyne City defender only to see the refs throw no flag. We had prepared for what to do in that situation, the opportunity arose, and luck (bad refs) resulted in a 21-20 loss. Luck affects life and sports, no matter what inspiring quote you drum up.

    I wasn't trying to slander MSU in any way, simply trying to reign in the hype a bit to where I believe is a more appropriate level of expectations for this season.

    Tbone should do a similar post for UM. In fact the "lucky" theme could probably be used right back against Michigan as they were certainly fortunate to win against Notre Dame and Virginia Tech last season.

  4. I should do a similar post. But I am lazy. The only point of that stat is that those stats don't matter (and the um offense is "better" than the lsu one but they were a natty champ game team). The game is played on the field, not on the score sheet. Defensively, MSU mopped the floor (mowed the grass?) with UM, in fact, Denard's helmet was even used occasionally. I will take a weak defense if it leads to success like that over a rival. I guess if talent was so low on the msu side, they should not have beaten the mighty wolverines, regardless of the amount of people in the box, but they did - that says a lot.


    And for all the readers out there, you can find FCS stats right next to FBS stats on

    1. I was attempting to look deeper and forecast for 2012, not simply reash 2011. Wins and losses aren't always a true indicator of the strength of a team

  5. Also, my point isn't MSU's D is bad, they are certainly good. I'm just not convinced they are as good as most people believe.

  6. I am with pat here. Not in the fact that msu is going to be overrated on defense, because I don't think that is necessarily true. Where I am with him is that projecting the future, and looking deeper into statistics makes a much more compelling blog/argument than rehashing what happened last year. If you think history will repeat itself, then give some reasons why instead of: we kicked your ass last year so we'll obviously do it again.

  7. 8 returning starters and 18 people returning that contributed on defense. That's about as statty as ill ever get. The fact of the matter is that the weak defense as pat calls them beat um. And did so handily. If you guys can prove that wrong ill listen more.

    Half the team could break its neck in a freak work out accident. Then where do stats leave me. Ill take our returning starters and hope they stay healthy.

  8. Test post. I haven't been able to post from work and have no internet at home yet, if this works I will attempt an actual rebuttal.

  9. I totally agree luck plays a huge part in the outcomes of sporting events but my point is that luck is not the only reason MSU has had some great years and continues to get stronger. Is there some countdown clock I need to know about that when time runs out we go back to the Bobby Williams and John L Smith eras of MSU football? Dantonio is a great coach, we are getting some solid recruits and I believe the MSU football team is a B1G contender in 2012 and hopefully into the future

  10. About the only thing that irritates Zach more than Wolverines is statistical analysis, especially "tempo free" analysis in basketball.

    So I was preparing myself mentally for a lengthy post trying to delve a little deeper into the stats. One important thing to remember about these cumulative seasons stats is that MSU in general accounted for 1/12th of their opponents schedule, so the fact that they were regularly completely shutting their opponents down had at least some impact on where those teams finished in terms of a cumulative offensive total. How much does that matter? Well that was going to be the challenging part. Then I remembered that this was the internet, and somewhere somebody had probably done this work for me.

    I submit to you who it turns out does detailed football ratings for both NCAA and NFL teams.

    Specifically, their Fremeau Efficiency Index (FEI) index, probably named for a really smart math doing person who came up with it. Description of their system is below.

    The Fremeau Efficiency Index (FEI) considers each of the nearly 20,000 possessions every season in major college football. All drives are filtered to eliminate first-half clock-kills and end-of-game garbage drives and scores. A scoring rate analysis of the remaining possessions then determines the baseline possession efficiency expectations against which each team is measured. A team is rewarded for playing well against good teams, win or lose, and is punished more severely for playing poorly against bad teams than it is rewarded for playing well against bad teams.

    •DFEI: Defensive FEI, the opponent-adjusted efficiency of the given team's defense.
    •DE: Defensive Efficiency, the raw unadjusted efficiency of the given team's defense, a measure of the actual drive success of its opponents against expected drive success based on field position.
    •FD: First Down rate, the percentage of opponent offensive drives that result in at least one first down or touchdown.
    •AY: Available Yards, yards earned by the opponent offense divided by the total number of yards available based on starting field position.
    •Ex: Explosive Drives, the percentage of each opponent offense's drives that average at least 10 yards per play.
    •Me: Methodical Drives, the percentage of each opponent offense's drives that run 10 or more plays.
    •Va: Value Drives, the percentage of each opponent offense's drives beginning on their own side of the field that reach at least the team's 30-yard line.
    •DSOS: Defensive Strength of Schedule, the likelihood that an elite defense (two standard deviations better than average) would have an above-average DE rating against each of the offenses faced.

    Please note that last item, Defensive Strength of Schedule.

    Their top 10 defenses:
    3.Oklahoma State
    4. Rutgers
    5. Oregon
    7. South Carolina
    8. Illinois
    9. Texas
    10.Florida State

    And Michigan came in at 16th.

    Smarter people than me could probably argue with their methodology, but I think that's a pretty accurate measure of who some of the better defenses in the country were.

    1. I never thought once the entire season that Oklahoma State had a good defense....

    2. Also, lol at Illinois and Rutgers.

    3. I had this reaction too, but Illinois was top 10 in the more traditional yards per game defensive rankings too. Rutgers was 19th.

      OKst and Oregon are the biggest outliers. OKst was 105th in traditional ydpg and Oregon 67th. Not an expert but I'm guessing a few things contributed to that. Both play in conferences that are considered more offense based. So their schedule wait probably really helped them.

      Also, that opening paragraph says they discount "garbage time" drives. I get why they do this, but I'm curious how they define it for this rating. They have a system based on score and time remaining for their other rating system based on per play success (MSU ranks 7th there by the way) but that's fairly subjective. So teams like OKst and Oregon that score a ton of points might have had a lot of successful oponent drives discounted.

    4. Yeah a 20 point lead in a big ten game is much different than a 20 point lead in a PAC 12 or Big 12 game. Difficult to define garbage time.

    5. How can you be against tempo free stats in basketball? Disliking something that helps explain the game better seems bizarre. Its as stupid as the "eye-test".

    6. Sorry Maceo meant to get b ack to you sooner.

      I can't explain why I hate tempo free stats in basketball so much. Though I do like effective fg% tempo free stats are for people that don't actually enjoy sport. They need to quantify everything. Sometimes a team just gets hot and wins. Also in basketball, usually whichever team has the best player on the floor in that game, wins. That's probably true for 90% of basketball games. (i wont do any actual research on that though if i did im confident it would prove true)

      Caring about tempo free stats is like caring about what film a movie was shot on and not the actual movie. By watching the film you are missing the story.

      Its like fishing with the banjo minnow (those actually did work) or baiting deer. There's no sport.

      It might be fine for a gm but as a fan, you should never care about anything other than who won. Too many couch gms, not enough fans.

      But if other people like them that is cool. Whatever floats your boat. We don't discriminate on that here. You just wont read a lot of about tempo free here. is a great blog for bball stats of that nature.

  11. Had to break into two posts since it was so long. cont'd:

    I like statistics, I think they enhance your ability to understand the things you see on the field. In this case, I regularly saw MSU dominate their opponents on defense, and in this case statistics support that.

    I think the Wisconsin games are actually great examples for the MSU defense. Yes, Wisconsin moved the ball really effectively at times. But their scoring output was also increased because of MSU turnovers that gave them great field position in both games. And, for really long stretches, MSU completely dominated them. After their first two TDs in the first game, MSU played the best defense I have seen in person, holding Wisconsin to 3 points in their next 8 drives through the end of the 3rd quarter. (Yes there was a missed field goal in there too).

    At the same time I recognize past results don't guarantee the same or better this year. Losing Worthy and Robinson, two starters, leaders and playmakers could hurt. But there is still an awful lot of talent on that defense, I expect them to be very, very good again in 2012.

    1. Nice Ken. I'm surprised MSU is so high in FEI. I still think they feasted on weak competition but they must be getting a massive boost for playing Wisconsin twice.

    2. Seriously? With msu, its never them it's always their opponents or an act of god isn't it?

    3. Well when I'm discussing their strength of schedule I am clearly discussing their opponents...not sure how it can be "them" in this case.

  12. I'll not going jump into the stats morass, do I need to quote Mark Twain?

    I will comment on UM's recent and regular use of the 'luck' or 'it was a down year for us' arguments. Each of these arguments is as easily applied in the converse, UM's wins over MSU (or insert OSU, etc.) were luck, or UM only beat MSU because we were having a down year or two.

    It's been a while so I can't remember too clearly, but wasn't there a fumble in the 2007 UM win over MSU that hit the ground and bounced right back into our little sisters hands?

    There are a thousand examples that go both ways; a monsoon that drowns your offense and washes away a 3 TD lead, or a ball that should have easily been caught but a WR tip results in an INT for a DB who was clearly beaten on the play, picking any one and calling it definitive seems simplistic.

    Kirk was/is a great Spartan and we miss him, but we're no longer the team starting a completely untested freshman because we have no depth. Maxwell doesn't have a lot of stats, but he's been in games, and he's been in the system long enough to know the play book. Barring injury, to himself or Bell (who should take a lot of the pressure off), Maxwell should be more than adequate.

    The most compelling argument in favor of the MSU D is the UM game from last year. Forget the stats, watch the game. It wasn't our most stellar offensive performance, and much like the Georgia game, the O gave UM chances to take back that game, but the D held, or more.

    The UM fans have heard all the hype and are fired up that their 3rd choice as head coach, with a sub .500 career record, will take them back to glory. I think they're also a little nervous that 5 in a row is followed by another trip to East Lansing for 6.

    1. Hoke's career record is 58-52, just to clarify.

    2. The point about luck was not that MSU's victory over Michigan was lucky, it wasn't. MSU outplayed the Wolverines and deserved the win. The point was that MSU has maximized it's win outlook for the level of talent and execuation it has gotten the past two seasons. WIthin sports consists variables of chance and MSU has seen those variables go their way routinely in 2010 and 2011. Similarly Iowa had one of those seasons a few years ago where they won a ton of close games and were ranked in the top 5 in November only to the see floor drop out as they got beat down in their last few games.

      So the point about luck is not about luck in one game (UM vs MSU) especially not abut one play (a bounce on a fumble) but on the aggregate of all factors over a couple seasons. These things revert to the mean and balance themselves out. MSU at some point is going to suffer some seemingly "unlucky" losses.

  13. As an MSU fan you're everything I despise about Michigan fans. Delusional to the fact that Michigan was the luckiest team in the NCAA this past year. Don't try telling me Denard chucking it up and cornerbacks completely botching it in multiple games is anything but luck. Also, Michigan recovered 73.81% percent of fumbles throughout their 13 games. Generally speaking, fumbles are thought of as 50-50 chances for both teams. Different things happen to change that, but recovering almost 3/4 of the fumbles means they had a lot of bounces in their favor. You can try and say "The coahces teach hustle," but clearly there was some luck on their side. So the same can be said for Michigan, the thing about luck is, it always runs out. As for the defense, they can only play the opponents given to them, and they clearly did a good job against the opposing teams. You can say what you want about the lack of strength of the offenses they competed against, but I doubt they would be getting all this hype if they weren't really that good. Leave it to the no-name Michigan blogger to dig deep and try to knock on MSU's defense. And finally, Andrew Maxwell. The thing is, he's not going to have to do the same thing Cousins did. He has an offensive line in front of him that features 6 returning players with starting experience, and a running back behind him that is clearly a better back than his 2011 statistics indicate. Take a look at the last half when he was moved to the starting position and you will see. This team is going to be able to pound the ball out on the ground, and Maxwell has the potential to burn teams if they try to stick 8 in the box. I'm sorry Pat, but I do not respect you as a fan. Maybe you should stop worrying about why you think MSU will underachieve, and instead worry about the potential holes and reasons Michigan will underachieve.

    1. Nice! Finally some discussion.

      I'm not sure why you despise me so much. I simply wanted to bring up some interesting points about MSU's prospects for 2012.

      Of course I'm more concerned about Michigan's potential holes than I am about MSU but there are plenty of other blogs that cover their own team. The point of this is to try to get a view from the rivalries standpoint.

      In this instance I wasn't trying to compare Michigan but simply talking about the Spartans.

    2. I agree with your assessment that Michigan was lucky in 2011. One different bounce (or jump ball result) and they lose to Notre Dame. And I specifically remember jumping up and down at the Sugar Bowl proclaiming "HOW ARE WE WINNING????"

      If you read the comments above I brought this up saying our resident MSU blogger should do a similar post on Michigan. It's interesting and fun.

      Anyway, hate on Mr. Sparty. Hopefully we'll see "anonymous" posting here more, though I do find it funny being called a no name blogger from a literally no name commenter.

  14. This guy things we stacked the box against scUM because of the wind?? sorry, it's because denard can't throw regardless of the conditions. you will continue to see MSU stack the box against him regardless of the conditions