Monday, January 31, 2011

Porgramming note

Posting will be light this week. I'm in the process of moving into a new apartment, which will cut about 2 hours out of my daily commute, making regular blogging a lot easier. But for now, internet access and free time will be sparse. I'll have presser notes on the signing day announcement as well as general thoughts about recruiting sometime after that. Thanks for your patience.

Friday, January 28, 2011

Michigan State upset: Where Wet Owl gets meta

You're welcome, Michigan fans. It's only now that I can reveal the true genius of my plan: criticize John Beilein's performance in order to motivate the team to defeat in-state rival Michigan State and end one of the more infuriating streaks of the last several years. In reality, Wet Owl mocks mocks my predictions and tells Mike Hart, "zone left".

Yesterday's victory against Michigan State was at worst, the end to a losing streak that's been alive since 2007, and at best, a sign of what Michigan's basketball team could be in the future. After coming close a lot of times this year, Michigan finally finished a game off with the help of a Stu Douglass dagger and running the shot clock down to five seconds on seemingly every Michigan possession in the second half. The team played as well or better than they have all year and it finally paid off. Michigan out-rebounded MSU (!), shot 10/21 from three-point range, and finished the game with two more assists than Michigan State. They out hustled and out played the Spartans in their own building, something a non-hockey Michigan team hasn't done in a  while.

Obviously, this one win isn't going to change my opinions on Beilein: I'm still concerned that sustained success under Beilein is either a long time away or never coming. But yesterday's game gave glimpses of what could be: a three-point shooting powerhouse that plays tight defense and hits the boards hard. The team's performance is the best-case scenario going forward, and in the future, increasing experience should lower variance and provide more consistent play. Whether or not Michigan frequently approaches 50% from three-point range is unknown and unlikely, but if they can find a way to avoid their persistent shooting woes, we could see a quick return to the NCAA squad that captured the fanbase's hearts in 2009.

Michigan State, meanwhile, played a remarkably poor game, shooting 5-19 from outside (hey, those are Michigan numbers!) and, as mentioned, were out-rebounded by an undersized Wolverine squad. A missed open layup down the stretch encapsulated the Spartans' game: missing easy shots because Michigan's defense took them out of rhythm. If the two teams played yesterday's game 10 more times, I'd expect MSU to win 9 or 10 of those games. But fortunately, that's not how sports work. Michigan turned East Lansing into Wootcity and made me look silly just days after I questioned the team and coach's performance.

They're now 2-6 in conference and, though the NCAA Tournament is almost certainly out of question now, Michigan can pull itself out of the Big Ten cellar with upcoming games against Iowa, Indiana, Northwestern, and Penn State. If they can win 2-3 of these games, the good vibes from this Michigan State win may help carry the team to the end of the season, but with an upcoming matchup against #1 Ohio State, a loss to any of these Big Ten bottom feeders could quickly send the team spiraling back into a 6-game (or more) losing streak. For now, let's celebrate. Michigan has broken one of our devastating losing streaks.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Is John Beilien fireable this year?

On Monday, I wrote that, basically, my patience with John Beilein was wearing thin. It may be that we tasted the good life too early with Beilein (NCAA Tournament berth in his second year) that makes the descent of the team during the previous two years more painful. But the Wolverines have unquestionably regressed. Whether that's because of graduating talent (Sims and Harris' early departure), a tougher schedule, or a less lucky team, I don't know. But in my opinion, it's time for Dave Brandon to start looking around and at least surveying the field of possible coaching candidates.

This, however, was met with objections from commenters.

Michigan hasn't had a winning record in the Big 10 all along. Its a bad start this year but they can still get in the neighborhood of wins they've been at for the last few years (8, 5, 9, 7). You can point to NIT vs NCAA or whatever, but this program has been hovering around as a below-average Big10 team since Fisher left.

I don't think this team competes for the conference title anytime soon. Thats true regardless of if you keep Beilein or not. I don't think you should EXPECT that yet. How about just getting a winning record in the Big10 first?
Well if your expectations were "bottom of the Big Ten" and they're playing "bottom of the Big Ten but have been surprisingly competitive and some of the young guys (Morris, Hardaway, Smot) are ahead of schedule," then where's the beef? If your objection is that we're at the bottom of the Big Ten after four years then you probably should've written this article before the season and not after the team is fulfilling your expectations but has almost upset a half dozen good teams with Matt Vogrich playing real minutes.
Like the guy above said, get above .500 in the conference first, then we'll talk about titles. If Beilien can get this program to the point that it makes the tournament 50% of the time, has a seven man rotation of top 100 guys (a top 50 here and there would be nice) and becomes a decent brand again, he will have succeeded. I expect 5-7 years of that before he retires, and then I think the next guy in will be the one that wins titles.
In the aftermath, I largely agree with all of the comments: Beilein is probably the right guy for the moment, with the hope that eventually, Michigan will start working its way up the Big Ten latter. Conference titles are currently unrealistic. But I'm still unsettled that this is the mindset of fans in a coach's fourth year, especially in basketball where one recruit or one recruiting class can significantly turn around your fortunes.

It's not fair to compare Rodriguez and Beilein, so I won't use "We fired Rodriguez, we should fire Beilein" as an argument. But the question I wonder is this: What would it take for Beilein to be fired this year? (Or at least for fans to call for his firing?)

Michigan is currently 1-6 in the Big Ten with 11 games remaining. They've played Syracuse*, Kansas, Ohio State, and Minnesota close but have come up short in all four games. But they've also been blown out by Wisconsin, Purdue, Indiana, and Northwestern. The schedule for the rest of the year isn't particularly easy, and with Michigan's ability to collapse against anyone, pulling out wins down the stretch might be difficult.

Sports are not a cut and dry exercise, but if we were to handicap which games Michigan might/should win for the rest of the season, we see that there's very real possibility that the team ends up between 5-13, and 2-16 in conference:

Date Opponent Expected outcome Date Opponent Expected outcome
1/27 at MSU L 2/16 at Ill L
1/30 vs. Iowa W 2/19 at Iowa L
2/3 at OSU L 2/23 vs. Wisc L
2/6 at PSU ? 2/26 at Minn L
2/9 vs. NW ? 3/5 vs. MSU L
2/12 vs. Ind ?

These are pure estimations of the outcomes based on the performance of Michigan and their opponents to date. Games @PSU, NW, and Ind are all left as question marks as teams that Michigan should be able to beat, but the Wolverines have either lost to already and now face them at home (NW, Ind) or play on the road (PSU; Michigan has been an exceptionally bad road team this year). Games @OSU, MSU x2, Illinois, Wisconsin, and Minny are all ones that look out of reach.

So if Michigan really does plummet to the bottom of the Big Ten this year and end the season with 1-4 wins in conference, at what point is Beilein no longer the coach of the moment? During Beilein's tenure, Michigan finished 5-13, 9-9, and 7-11 in conference. If they make another significant dip this year, down to (or possibly below) Beilein's first year at Michigan, is he still a viable candidate going forward? It's one thing not to win conference championships (which I'm fine with at this point), but a team that has shown regression over multiple years is another thing entirely.

I still say that next year has to be a make or break season since this one is very likely dead. But is there any way that you start calling for Beilein's head this year if the team crumbles down the stretch and ends up in the Big Ten cellar?

*Syracuse's recent swoon does not speak highly for Michigan's near upset.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

More on pro-style QB recruiting

Previously: Is there less competition for pro-style QB recruits? and Pro-QB recruiting competition UPDATE

In an effort to answer whether or not there's more available pro-style QB recruits now because of the widespread adoption of the spread offense, I've reviewed all of the committed recruits between 2002 and 2010, and divided them into two groups: 2002-2007 (pre-Rodriguez) and 2008-2010 (Rodriguez's three years at Michigan). None of my previous studies were particularly conclusive, but a commenter suggested that I take a look at how the top-tier teams in the BCS recruited 3-star+ QB prospects to get a general sense of Michigan's competition for the high-end players. The following is a list of the 30 schools chosen:

Alabama BYU Georgia Tech Ole Miss UCLA
Arizona St. Clemson Miami (FL) Penn State USC
Arkansas Colorado ND Tennessee Utah
Auburn Florida Nebraska Texas Virginia Tech
BC Florida State Ohio State Texas AM Washington
Boise State Georgia Oklahoma Texas Tech West Virginia

Teams were chosen by with the help of this records generator. They were sorted by winning percentage between 1960 and 2010. Michigan was excluded, as were most non-automatic qualifying schools (with the exception of Boise St. and BYU as they solidified themselves as national powers in recent years, as well as Notre Dame). I can't verify the legitimacy of the records generator, but a quick sanity check says that it's probably right or close to right. This is a fairly subjective list regardless, so the accuracy isn't necessarily make-or-break.

The following is a chart of these schools' recruitment of 3-, 4-, and 5-star commits, separated into the time frames noted above:



3-stars 4-stars 5-stars
3-stars 4-stars 5-stars
Total prospects 156 56 11
124 39 4
Recruited by top 30 56 31 8
32 20 3
% of top 30 35.89% 55.35% 72.72%
25.81% 51.28% 75.00%

As usual with this series, a relatively small sample size should be noted. With that in mind, the numbers between the two time periods are fairly similar. There's a notable drop-off in the recruitment of 3-star QBs between 2008-2010, but 4- and 5-star commitments are almost identical between the two ranges.

An interesting data point is that between 2008 and 2010, Florida, Georgia Tech, Nebraska, Virginia Tech, and West Virginia all failed to recruit a single 3-star+ pro-style QB. Even still, the overall percentages stayed close to the same. Between 2002 and 2007, they accounted for nine 3-star recruits (5.76%) and six 4-star recruits (19.35%). This explains some of the dropoff in the recruitment numbers between the two ranges.

Going forward, Georgia Tech is unlikely to recruit more pro-style QBs, but Florida, Nebraska, Va. Tech, and West Virginia are all trending toward (or flirting with) pro-style offenses. We can likely assume that they'll continue their recruitment of these players in the near future. But even if they don't, the competition for these recruits is still high enough that I think it's difficult to say that competition for these players has noticeably decreased. (If someone can easily do a statistical significance analysis of these numbers to say whether or not they're significant, it would be appreciated.)

UPDATE: Another explanation for the drop off in top-30 schools recruiting may have to do with the increase in the total number of prospects. In the first data range, there was an average of 26 3-star, 9.33 4-star, and 1.83 5-star prospects each year. In the second data range, there were 41.33 3-star, 13 4-star, and 1.33 5-star recruits per year. The significant increase in 3- and 4-star prospects can account for some of the dip in top-30 recruiting in addition to the the five schools noted above not recruiting a single pro-style QB in that time frame.

Very likely, these numbers are just as inconclusive as the previous two studies, but they're interesting nonetheless. Though there may be a slight fall off in the recruitment of some pro-style QB prospects, I don't know that it's fair to say Michigan will have any less competition for the higher-end players or even your generic 3-stars.

Let me know if you see any issues with the numbers or process and I'll try to revise it again.

Monday, January 24, 2011

John Beilein's time is coming

During last year's basketball season, I spent a lot of time talking about Manny Harris and John Beilein, and neither for particularly positive reasons. I had grown tired of Manny's clear indifference toward the team and Beilein's failing strategies. And as we sit through another losing season from the basketball team, it's time to start wondering when Dave Brandon's hammer will come down on Beilein.

During the offseason, I surveyed Michigan's roster and came away with this:
I have long bemoaned the death of the John Beilein-led Wolverines, but I can think of no clearer symbol of, well, utter failure than in his fourth year to have only 1/3 of the team entering the season with any game experience at all, one of whom averaged only 5.5 minutes per game in his freshman season--and let's note that a) Beilein isn't recruiting one-and-dones; b) he didn't necessarily take over a program chocked full of upper classmen; and c) it's not like the team succeeded last year and graduated their talent a la UNC 2009.

As Dylan at UMHoops says, this is a rebuilding year, but is that even acceptable in the fourth year of the program? The four game-experienced players Michigan has returning combined for 30.59% of the team's scoring last year... The rest of Michigan's team now is inexperienced and undersized (mostly), and is going find themselves led by Novak and Douglass as the team's returning "veterans".

I trust Beilein, or at least I'm trying to. He took the team to the Tournament in his second season and should be awarded some sort of leniency for that, but it's difficult not to look at the current state of the program and think it's headed downward. One bad break (Ben Cronin) and one early departure (Manny) should not send an entire program into a tailspin of crippling youth and, let's face it, mediocre players, but they have. If Rich Rodriguez didn't exist, Beilein would be feeling a lot more heat for this, but Michigan will always and forever be a football school. I'm about at the end of my rope with Beilein. If we don't see anything this year, you can expect me to be leading the torch and pitchfork crew into Crisler.
I, like most of the Michigan blogosphere, was pleasantly surprised with the progress the team appeared to make early in the season. Darius Morris was turning into an outstanding point guard, the young players on the team we overachieving, and most surprisingly, Michigan's man-to-man defense was unflappable. But demoralizing losses to Northwestern (by 14) and Indiana (by 19) and it becomes clear that, though Michigan's early success wasn't a mirage, it was largely the function of a weaker schedule.

People will point to close losses to Syracuse, Ohio State, and Purdue as signs of progress, but college basketball is a game that offers a lot of parity--because of a long shot clock and a shortened game, there are less opportunities for both teams to score resulting in lower scoring games and lower differentials. And where there is parity, there are bound to be close games. In Amaker's final year, Michigan had a four-point loss to #1 Ohio State. In the 03-04 season, Michigan had a close loss to a ranked MSU team and a win over #17 NC State. Even Indiana gave Minnesota and Wisconsin runs for their money in the last few weeks.

The point is, close losses to good programs are not something to build your program on. The more telling games are blowouts to UTEP and Indiana. Michigan is still a team that's capable of losing to bad teams on a frequent basis, but that also has the talent to play with (and occasionally upset) a high-ranked team. This is what Beilein has built in his fourth year.

Amaker Players Beilein Players
CJ Lee Zack Novak
Anthony Wright Stu Douglass
David Merritt Corey Person
Jevohn Shepherd Laval Lucas-Perry
Eric Puls Ben Cronin
Zach Gibson Kelvin Grady
DeShawn Sims
Manny Harris
Others will point to Michigan's tournament appearance as a testament to his skills. However, Beilein got the team there on the backs of Amaker's players (right). It's tough to say argue that Michigan would've been as successful without Novak, Douglass, Grady, and Lucas-Perry (the only real contributors to that team), but the majority of the 2008-09 team's production came from Amaker players. There's obviously something to be said for turning them into a NCAA Tournament team--though Amaker never had Manny Harris on campus--it's also important to note that Beilein's far-and-away most successful season came primarily from another coach's players.

Since that season, and the subsequent graduation/flight of Amaker's players, we've watched the team make a precipitous drop down the Big Ten and once again out of the national spotlight. Beilein has almost completely abandoned the schemes and styles that made him a successful coach to begin with (1-3-1 defense and a three-point shooting offense) because the players he recruited either can't shoot as well as he had hoped or don't understand the defense under which they're playing (or both). So as Michigan plummets toward the bottom of the Big Ten, I have to wonder how much longer people are going to endure at best mediocrity and at worst utter failure.

What Dave Brandon does in the coming months will be interesting. During the Rich Rodriguez debacle, he said that with all coaches, he would wait until the end of the season and judge things accordingly. He then threw his support behind Beilein before the season had started. But if Rodriguez gets the axe after only three years with a roster that's comparably young to the basketball team, you'd have to imagine that Beilein is also seriously on the hot seat. And he doesn't have one of the nation's best offenses (or defenses) to fall back on.

Friday, January 21, 2011

Pro-QB recruiting competition UPDATE

[Read: Is there less competition for pro-style QB recruits?]

My original post on the topic was in response to an MGoBlog assertion that, since the widespread adoption of the spread offense in college football, there were actually more available pro-style QBs that Michigan could recruit from. I set out to prove whether or not that was true. The conclusion was that it wasn't (sort of). Commenter Jivas makes a good point (emphasis mine):
I appreciate the analytical bent, but I think the devil here is in the details. The real question isn't the *total* number of school taking commits from pro-style QB, but *which* schools. The possibility exists that more and more top-level BCS conference schools are switching to spread offenses and that competition for the best pro-style QBs **among those schools** has decreased.

Of course most of the FBS-quality pro-style QBs will find homes somewhere or another - as your charts show - but what may be happening is that some of them end up settling for lower-rated programs, which wouldn't be evident in these charts. So Brian's supposition may be correct, in that there may be less competition among top-tier BCS schools for top-tier pro-style QBs.
This makes sense: regardless of the schemes being played at various schools, BCS-caliber recruits are going to find a home somewhere. In hindsight, this was sort of assumed in my first post, which ultimately proved that pro-style quarterbacks go to a variety of schools instead of just all settling in at a specific number of pro-style programs. This, as Jivas points out, wasn't really what I was intending to discover anyway. What I'm looking to discover is whether or not the same caliber teams are recruiting pro-style quarterbacks or whether the adoption of the spread offense has left lesser schools to fight over higher-rated recruits.

For the sake of easy, I looked at two sets of data:  Lloyd Carr's final six years versus Rich Rodriguez's three years (beginning with 2008 and extending to 2010; 2011 has been excluded because the recruiting process is still incomplete). I tracked all of the 3-star+ recruits that committed during those time spans. The graphs are small, so click on them to see a full-size view.

What you see (and should've expected) is that the distribution of the recruits is fairly similar: there's a select group of schools that can recruit 4- and 5-star players, and then a definitive falloff. A bit on the raw numbers:

5-stars. Between 2002 and 2007, there were 11 5-star pro-style QB recruits. These were taken by 10 different schools (Michigan was the only school to receive two commitments: Henne and Mallett). Between 2008 and 2010, there were four 5-star recruits, each of which went to a different school. As you would expect, 5-star recruits don't really form logjams at any school and are distributed amongst the who's who of college football (with a few exceptions): Michigan, Arizona St., Notre Dame, Georgia, Oklahoma, UCLA, Penn St., Arkansas, Stanford, USC, Missouri, and Texas. Of the four 5-star recruits between 2008 and 2010, two of them ended up at schools (USC, Notre Dame) that lured one between 2002 and 2007.

4-stars. The same trend holds for the distribution of 4-star recruits. Between 2002 and 2007, 34 different schools received at least one recruit from 56 total players; 16 schools had more than one 4-star recruit commit to them. Between 2008 and 2010, there were 39 total 4-star recruits, distributed among 30 different schools. Nine received more than one commitment. This isn't a 1:1 relation, but it's close enough to assume that competition hasn't decreased dramatically (if at all)

None of this is definitive one way or the other, and it's close enough that it's probably difficult to argue for or against a decrease in demand for pro-style QBs.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Is there less competition for pro-style QB recruits?

On Tuesday, Brian at MGoBlog answered a couple of mailbag questions. One of them asked about Borges' offense, specifically in relation to the New England Patriots' "pro-style system" (emphasis mine):
Thinking about a pro-style offense that employs slots and would fit fairly well.... What about the Patriots offense?  Slot guys, undersized receivers and running backs....Obviously Tom never runs, but they could incorporate the single-wing QB runs and ISQD's pretty easily as well as roll-out run-pass option plays....Am I dreaming here?  Is there any way with the Michigan connections over there that Borges/Hoke could go in this offseason pick Belichick and Brady's brains and/or outright steal some of that offense all together?  What about the Eagles offense?  It seems this would be a pretty good recruiting pitch - "You know Tom Brady?  The Patriots?  That team that crushes people all the time? Yeah - we're running their offense."

The Patriots may be pros but they don't really run a pro-style offense anymore thanks to Brady. Unfortunately for Michigan's immediate future, the things that make Brady one of the greatest QBs of all time—pinpoint accuracy and I'm-from-the-future coverage reads—are the things Robinson has in shortest supply.

Long term I'm down with what seems to be Borges's preference for a pass-slanted West Coast offense, which is a system that works and works well when you've got the right guy at the helm. One positive about returning to something resembling the old offense is that college football's tilt towards spread systems has made pocket guys more available, and Michigan's reputation was enough to lure Ryan Mallett north despite that not being the best idea in the world for him personally.
This is a logical conclusion to draw but I wasn't exactly sure that it was a realistic one. The following is a rundown of all 3-star or higher pro-style QB recruits* and the number of schools that accepted commitments from at least one. I used Rivals' recruit search function to collect the data as far back as they had it (2002). For comparison, I added in the number of dual-threat QB recruits as well as the schools that accepted commitments from at least one of those players.

# of pro-style QB recruits # of schools pro-style QB recruits committed to Uncommitted recruits # of dual-threat QB recruits # of schools dual-threat QB recruits committed to
2002 31 27 2 39 27
2003 60 43 9 39 31
2004 36 30 2 31 26
2005 37 35 0 35 30
2006 39 36 0 29 26
2007 47 43 3 35 34
2008 47 41 0 30 28
2009 59 51 5 49 37
2010 81 64 11 61 49
2011 64 43 12 45 35

There are a few interesting data points here:

The number of recruits has increased significantly over the years. This is a logical progression as recruiting becomes more and more of a mainstream process, but the number of recruits in 2002 and the numbers we've seen in the last few years (especially for pro-style QBs) are pretty staggering.

It follows then, that the number of schools that recruit these players will also increase. The following chart shows the percentage of NCAA FBS schools that received a commitment from a pro-style QB (yellow) versus the percentage of QB recruits that were classified as pro-style as opposed to dual-threat (blue) by Rivals:

First a caveat about 2011: The reason there's a significant drop in the percentage of schools with commitments from pro-style QBs is because signing day hasn't passed yet. As you can see in the chart above, there are still 12 uncommitted pro-style QB recruits in 2011. While not all of them will end up committing to an FBS program, it's safe to say that at very least, four or five will, significantly increasing the percentage here.

A few assumptions: If we presume that competition for pro-style QBs has indeed decreased as the spread offense became more prevalent, the above graph should show the percentage of pro-style QBs (blue line) either increasing or staying constant while the percentage of schools that receive a commitment from one (yellow line) to decrease. The opposite should also be true. Two lines increasing or decreasing at the same level should indicate a constant demand for pro-style QBs.

Also, over time, you would expect some minor, if noticeable, ebb and flow to the percentage of teams that receive a commitment from pro-style recruits (not unlike a sine wave) as schools don't need them every year. Unfortunately, I don't have enough data to display the trend.

What we see here is actually what appears to be an increase in demand and competition for pro-style QBs. After a quick eye test, it looks like the number of schools receiving commitments from at least one pro-style recruit is increasing at a slightly higher rate than the percentage of pro-style recruits. If nothing else, we can likely conclude that the demand for pro-style quarterbacks has not decreased since 2002, even with the increasing prevalence of the spread offense.

This doesn't really mean anything for Michigan, which is a program that, regardless of the recruiting competition, has been able to lure stud recruits when they want them. This was more of a fact-finding mission. Let me know if there was anything wrong with my logic/process here, as there very well might have been.

*I set the lower limit of the sample size as 3-star recruits because those are the lowest ranked recruits we reasonably expect Michigan to actively recruit and not just take a flier on.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Al Borges interview: Goodbye spread offense

So remember how Brady Hoke was hired and immediately started talking about adjusting his schemes to the personnel he had? The local media went bonkers for it and starting comparing this edict to Rich Rodriguez's approach of Complete System Overhaul when he came to Ann Arbor. Yeah well, that may not have been entirely accurate, and was certainly before offensive coordinator Al Borges had his say:
I was once told: A great coach makes the kids do what he wants them to do. They've got to come with us. They've got to do what we want them to do... At the end of the day, they're going to appreciate what this staff brings to the table because there's a lot of experience and a lot of guys that know what they're doing.
Caveats about this being the first part of a two-part interview--the second half will invariably talk about Denard--but this sounds exactly like the mindset of Rodriguez when he came to Michigan, except that it's being delivered the friend of a Michigan Man. Also, Borges had just finished talking about execution and making sure players can do everything well, but regardless, this sounds like a man pretty firmly set in his ways.

Other disconcerting comments (emphasis mine):
I'm on the Brady Hoke page and always have been. I think toughness is critical. You have to start with that. This game is not for the faint of heart. Particularly in this conference because there are a lot of people coming off the ball and forcing the issue. And we're going to try and do that same thing.
Borges is clearly not a man that is going to mess around with zone blocking schemes, the zone-read, or a bevy of quarterback runs. He's been running his system for over two decades and is not going to be swayed to change it significantly now.

I agree wholeheartedly with MGoBlog's recent post about Borges' offensive system and how it gels with Michigan's current talent pool: it doesn't really. I've seemingly been the only one advocating that Denard is not necessarily a lock to take the starting QB position next year, and this just feels like more fuel to that fire. It's still early in the process and unfair to condemn anyone yet, but this should squash any thoughts of Hoke and Borges et al are any different than Rodriguez when it comes to rethinking your offensive strategy to accommodate the players you inherit. Let's hope Greg Mattison can do something with this defense.

Greg Mattison: By the numbers

Michigan, in an effort to have the oldest coaching staff in the country and lure recruits with offers of Werther's Caramels, has hired Baltimore Ravens defensive coordinator Greg Mattison to lead the much maligned Wolverines defense. By now, you probably know his history: Mattison served as Michigan's defensive line coach and defensive coordinator from 1992-1996 before shipping off to Notre Dame and Florida, and then finally to the NFL to lead one of the fiercest defenses in the league.

As I'm wont to do in such situations, I pulled Mattison's team stats, as well as those teams' performances in years just preceding and following his tenure. These tables contain Mattison's teams' national rankings as well as the corresponding YPG and PPG. Without further ado:

Notre Dame

Notre Dame 1999 Notre Dame 2000 Notre Dame 2001 Notre Dame 2002 Notre Dame 2003 Notre Dame 2004
Rushing defense 50th (142.2) 57th (147.6) 39th (132.3) 10th (95.2) 29th (127.2) 4th (88.2)
Passing defense No stats available 43rd (206.18) 10th (172.64) 46th (204.77) 48th (213.00) 116th (281.25)
Passing eff defense 82nd 61st 38th 10th 76th 98th
Total defense 74th (383.7) 51st (353.82) 14th (304.91) 13th (300.00) 33rd (340.17) 54th (369.42)
Scoring defense 78th (27.6) 35th (20.5) 22nd (19.5) 9th (16.7) 65th (26.3) 46th (24.1)

Mattison was already firmly entrenched at Notre Dame before 1999, the earliest year that I can find stats for. He took over the defensive coordinator position in 1997 and served until 2001. From 2002 to 2004 (in blue), Mattison served solely as the defensive line coach for the Fighting Irish.

Toward the end of Mattison's reign as the defensive coordinator, Notre Dame's defense was shaping into something fierce. If the defensive progression is uniform over his first two years (that we don't have stats for) it's safe to say that Mattison took over a fairly defunct defensive unit and took only a few years to morph it into a solid group.

The exciting data point here is the rushing defense when Mattison took over as defensive line coach. In his first year as DL coach, Notre Dame's rushing defense jumped into the top 10 nationally and had only a slight speed bump in his second year before returning to a top-five unit in 2004.

In contrast to Brady Hoke's performances, these numbers show a coach that has crafted a defense (or defensive line as it may be) into a top-notch unit. Hoke struggled for years to develop a quality defense and maintain that production, but Mattison seems able to do so in relatively little time.

From Notre Dame, Mattison went to Florida where he served alongside Charlie Strong as co-defensive coordinator.


Florida 2004 Florida 2005 Florida 2006 Florida 2007 Florida 2008 Florida 2009
Rushing defense 53rd (141.9) 10th (94.9) 5th (72.5) 10th (103.3) 15th (105.43) 12th (99.79)
Passing defense 46th (203.67) 38th (204.92) 33rd (182.93) 98th (258.54) 20th (179.86) 2nd (152.79)
Passing eff defense 27th 25th 4th 71st 3rd 6th
Total defense 42nd (345.58) 9th (299.83) 6th (255.43) 41st (361.85) 9th (285.29) 4th (252.57)
Scoring defense 31st (21.1) 18th (18.8) 6th (13.5) 46th (25.5) 4th (12.93) 4th (12.43)

Mattison served as the Florida defensive coordinator between 2005 and 2007 (in blue). All three years, Mattison was listed as co-defensive coordinator and defensive line coach. Like his last gig, when he took over the defensive line, it quickly turned into a top-10 unit. Mattison took a middle-of-the-road rushing defense in 2004 and immediately turned them into a dominating group. Part of that comes on the strength of a few incredible recruiting classes (about which more later), but for the most part, Mattison turned Florida's defense into an unquestioned power.

Baltimore Ravens

Baltimore 2008 Baltimore 2009 Baltimore 2010
Rushing defense 3rd (81.4) 5th (93.3) 5th (93.9)
Passing defense 2nd (179.7) t-8th (207.3) 21st (224.9)
Total defense 2nd (261.1) 3rd (300.5) 10th (318.9)
Scoring defense 3rd (15.3) 3rd (16.3) 3rd (16.9)
Turnovers forced 1st in AFC (26 INTs/8 Fum) 2nd in AFC (22 INTs/10 Fum) 5th in AFC (19 INTs/8 Fum)

The Baltimore defense's reputation precedes it, and if you didn't already know that it's one of the stingiest in the NFL, you haven't watched a single NFL game in the last 10 years. While I don't want to read too much into NFL production because it's not necessarily an indicator of college success, this is just more evidence that Mattison's defenses are routinely great.

Not all of Mattison's success can be attributed to his schemes, necessarily, especially at Florida where a number of legendary recruiting classes helped the Gators to an unbelievable run in the '00s. Mattison's haul in 2006 includes four 4-stars, a 3-star, and a little known 5-star recruit named Tim Tebow. In 2007 (the only other year that Rivals has a record of his commitments), Mattison brought in two 4-stars, a 3-star, and another 5-star.

This isn't meant to take away from Mattison's schemes, but rather highlight that he's not only a good schmatic coach, but he also appears to have some recruiting chops. And that was before he was able to tell recruits he was in charge of one of the best defenses in the NFL.

There are concerns
On paper, Mattison looks like a great hire. Unfortunately, he has one obvious flaw: He's 60 years old. This is yet another coach under Hoke's command that is nearing retirement age. It's hard not to look at the staff that Hoke is compiling and not think that it's being built only to be uniformly scrapped in three to five years.

In the immediate future, this will appease the masses, but the sustainability of these coaches is slim at best. But that's something I'll complain about when Michigan has to replace them. For now, if Mattison can repeat the performances his resume is filled with, Michigan should be in good shape in the coming years.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Players most affected by Brady Hoke hiring

When Rich Rodriguez arrived at Michigan, he saw a flood of players leave the program because they no longer thought they fit his system. With the arrival of Brady Hoke--and, oddly, seemingly no attrition at all--comes the death of Rodriguez's schemes and the rebirth of the pro-style offense, as well as the similarly drastic scheme changes. And while Michigan doesn't have any players that are downright refusing to play in the new system, there are a number of players who should be significantly affected by the new offensive and defensive styles.

Position Switchers
Will Campbell; OL to DT
While most of my thoughts on the following players will largely be speculation, Campbell has already felt the sands of change. After coming out of high school as a 5-star defensive tackle recruit, Campbell has puttered around on the bench before being moved to offensive guard late this year. But when your new head coach is a former defensive line coach, and you have a should-be-star defensive tackle in the mold of Gabe Watson--who Hoke coached during his freshman year at Michigan--sitting the bench (on offense, no less), you're bound to see some changes.

Prediction: Not too much to speculate about here. Hoke has already announced Campbell's move back to the defensive side of the ball, which bolsters a fairly thin defensive tackle depth chart. Campbell's move also likely signifies a shift back to the 4-3 defense that Michigan ran under Carr.

I was relatively excited about Campbell coming into last year. After watching him at the Spring Game, he looked like he had finally come into his own as a nose tackle. But Greg Robinson and company saw something different and Campbell rode the bench most of the year. My guess is that Campbell becomes a significant contributor sometime during the season next year, if not immediately.

Slot Ninjas (Kelvin Grady/Terrence Robinson/Drew Dileo); SR to CB
One of the big changes from the Rodriguez to Hoke regimes will be a migration away from tiny slot receivers that Michigan has stockpiled in the last three years. Since Rodriguez took over, it seems like Michigan has offered every slot receiver that gets described as "explosive" and "shifty". Pro-style offenses, however, only have so many uses for tiny slotbacks. And with Michigan's logjam currently being fronted by Roy Roundtree and Martavious Odoms, I suspect that a few of these guys are asked to move to the other side of the ball to try and bolster a young secondary--or risk sitting the bench for the entire season. Specifically, journeyman Kelvin Grady, Terrance Robinson, and "return specialist" Drew Dileo seem like the most likely candidates for the move if only because of the placement on the team's depth chart (with touted freshman Jeremy Gallon lurking around the depth chart, Michigan doesn't have to worry about depth going forward).

Prediction: At least one of the three players mentioned above moves to the defensive side of the ball. The most likely seem like Dileo, who was brought on primarily to return kicks, and Terrence Robinson who has seen the bare minimum of playing time. The chances any one of these players actually contributes to the defense are slim, but their presence will bolster the defensive back core and give Hoke more options should he need them. If any of the position switches prove to be contributors, Michigan may even be able to redshirt one or two of the incoming defensive back recruits, building experience and depth for the future.

Playing time
Kevin Koger, TE
For the last three years, Kevin Koger and Martell Webb have spent their time clubbing unexpected linebackers and blocking for tiny quarterbacks. And for the most part, Rodriguez's offense had little or no use for tight ends, using them sparingly as H-backs and rarely slipping them out of the backfield as receivers. But Hoke's pro-style offense will utilize Michigan's talented tight end frequently. While much of it will be spent on the offensive line blocking for whoever is under center, we're also likely to see a lot of pass plays where the tight ends head upfield as receivers.

Prediction: Koger will see a significant increase from the number of snaps they saw this year. Not only that, but his receiving numbers will improve significantly. Last year, Koger netted 14 catches for 199 yards, and 2 TDs. I fully expect those numbers to at least double next year (should the offense not implode). The concern for Michigan's tight ends is that there's not enough of them. Michigan will need to recruit tight ends heavily and get a few more on campus should they have any stability at the position (not to mention that Koger will be a senior).

John McColgan, FB
If you're saying to yourself, "Who the hell is John McColgan?", you're probably not alone. McColgan is the sole full back currently on the Michigan roster, and with Michigan's return to a pro-style system, McColgan is sure to see a serious bump in playing time. He saw basically zero time this year, but was the recipient of one pass: a touchdown strike by Tate Forcier early in the year. Otherwise, McColgan was mostly a nonentity.

Prediction: Like Koger, McColgan's skillset and position is more frequently utilized in Hoke's pro-style offense than Rodriguez's, and should see a significant boost in playing time. But like Michigan fullbacks before him (see: Mark Moundros), McColgan was a walk-on and may not be the kind of player that is built for more frequent playing time. Regardless, unless Michigan finds another option at fullback in this recruiting class, you can be sure that McColgan will see a serious bump in playing time.

There are a few players that could take time away, however. Koger spent time this past year essentially as a fullback, when Michigan went to their heavy formation and the tight ends were lined up as H-backs. But the depth and injury concerns surrounding Koger will probably mean that McColgan retains most of that playing time. The only other player that might see time as a fullback is current Michigan mooseback Stephen Hopkins, who could moonlight as a FB when not playing tailback. Speaking of which...

Stephen Hopkins, RB/FB
Hopkins was able to find playing time as a true freshman amidst a crowded running back depth chart. His skillset isn't even geared toward the Rodriguez system, but his skills and size were too tempting to keep on the sideline. With that in mind, Hopkins may very likely take over the starting RB position at the beginning of the 2011 season. Hopkins would see more playing time regardless of who the coach was next year, but given how well his skillset matches Hoke's offensive style, it's safe to say that Hopkins will be on the field a lot more than he was in 2010.

Prediction: With Vincent Smith too small to consistently run between the tackles and Mike Shaw's frequent injuries, don't be surprised to see Hopkins take the first handoff next year. If he can cure his case of fumble-itis and improve in both the weight room and add a bit of speed, Hopkins could be the kind of every-down back Michigan hasn't had since Brandon Minor (minus all of the injuries *knock on wood*). Most likely, Hopkins will split time next year between Shaw and Mike Cox (who will also see more playing time).

The Who-Knows?
Denard Robinson, Devin Gardner; QB
It's safe to say that neither of these two are going to be switching positions this year, but who takes the reigns as the starting QB is something of a question mark (at least in my mind). Denard is the one with the experience and record-setting season on his resume, but he lacks the prototypical pro-QB size and accuracy that may be demanded of him in Hoke's system. Gardner has the size and certainly more touch on his deep throws than Denard, but he also had an awful tendency to throw wobbling ducks and do general freshman-y things. Gardner has had a full season to correct his throwing motion, and if his talents come to fruition during spring camp, there's a chance he could be the starter come fall.

Prediction: This probably isn't as much of a debate as I think it is, but I can't help but think that Gardner has a shot at starting next year. In the end, I'd bet that Denard is your starter next year, but Gardner is close on his heels (and looks competent either in clean-up duty or when Denard inevitably gets injured). However, if Gardner's throwing motion is much improved--and it's likely it could be--there's a very real possibility that his size and arm strength are more important to Hoke's offense than Denard's running ability. That said, Denard is almost certainly  The Guy next year.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Denard to stay, spread offense all but gone

This video has been all around the Internets today, but I'll post it for posterity:

In my heart of hearts, I was convinced that Denard was gone, not necessarily because he wanted to play in a spread system, but because, as he says in the video, Rich Rodriguez was one of the few coaches in the country that believed he could play quarterback. While Denard is clearly loyal to Michigan, I thought that his loyalty to Rodriguez might've trumped that and seen him transfer to another school. Thankfully he seems like a tried-and-true Wolverine, the likes of which this program was founded on.

All of the rumblings about what the offense will be next year continue to concern me, though. When asked about what Hoke has told him about the offense, Denard responded with,
It's going to be something to learn. It's going to take time. It's gonna be fun.
That sounds like we're going to see very few spread schemes, despite the assertion that the coaches will do their best to scheme for the talent they have. And when TomVH at MGoBlue talked with offensive lineman Chris Bryant, the prospect gave a troubling (to me at least) response to a question about next year's offense:
Coach Hoke was telling me about the new pro style offense, a lot of schools run that and Michigan used to run it.
This sounds explicitly like Hoke is telling recruits that Michigan is returning to the Lloyd Carr years of I-formation zone-left runs. The more I hear about Al Borges' prospective offense, the more concerned I become for next year's team and the success of Denard under center.

This year, Michigan went 7-6 almost solely on the strength of its explosive offense. Next year, the offense will take a noticeable step back and, given Hoke's teams' defensive track record, it's not beyond reason to expect Michigan to drop to 6-6 or worse on the scoresheet. If Hoke is able to turn Michigan's defense into something respectable--which he should be able to do with a talented and deep group of players now--I'll curse the heavens that Rodriguez was fired instead of being allowed to revamp his defensive staff again. But a regression from the offense is ominous.

There's also a video floating around of Hoke talking about the transition and the offense next year:

Hoke mentions Mike Vick as a successful running quarterback in a pro scheme, as well as the fact that Denard played under center a lot in high school. My biggest concern here is that Denard's throwing ability isn't sharp enough to carry a West Coast-style offense. His timing and accuracy will need to significantly improve if he's going to succeed in this system next year. Regardless, the utilization of Denard next year will likely amount to roll outs with a run/pass option, and scrambling out of the pocket, something he was hesitant to do for the majority of this year.

I am cautiously optimistic about next year. Denard has the arm to make the throws that will be asked of him, but I'm not sure if he has the accuracy. Not to mention, it sounds more and more like any sort of spread running attack will be abandoned with the implementation of Borges' offense. I'm confident that whoever Hoke hires as the defensive coordinator will be able to turn that unit into something respectable. My biggest concern for next year is going to be just how far the offense falls from its epic highs this year.

If you need me, I'll be in the corner telling myself, "It's only January" over and over again.

Friday, January 14, 2011

Random Hoke notes

With everyone's rage or excitement regarding the Brady Hoke hire beginning to return to the mean, I had a few thoughts floating around that I wanted to discuss.

The return of Denard Robinson. Hoke has mentioned several times now that he understands what a player of Denard's caliber can do for a team, despite also believing that the zone-read is some horse pucky. I have my doubts about both Hoke's willingness to maximize Denard's talents as well as Denard's effectiveness in a more traditional pro-style offense. To the former, best case scenario is either a gradual waning of the zone-read a la West Virginia in Rodriguez's wake or an Ohio State-like multiple front offense that incorporates bits and pieces of the option attack in a primarily pro-based system.

Below is a chart of the run/pass breakdown for West Virginia during Rodriguez's final two years and the three he was at Michigan. Also included is Michigan's stats this year:

WVU 2010 WVU 2009 WVU 2008 WVU 2007 WVU 2006 Mich 2010
Passing 382 347 305 265 233 385
Rushing 526 509 517 628 590 556
QB rushes 107
(2.0 YPC)
(3.37 YPC)
(5.03 YPC)
(6.72 YPC)
(7.07 YPC)
(6.22 YPC)
% rushes by QB 20% 27% 44% 39% 34% 51%
Rush % 57.90% 59.40% 62.89% 70% 71% 59.08%

As you can see, Bill Stewart has taken a pretty linear path away from the spread offense that Rodriguez ran. At this point, West Virginia runs basically a passing spread with very little in the way of quarterback carries, at least insofar as the offense was originally conceived. This year, Michigan hovered somewhere around Rodriguez's final year at WVU and the Mountaineers' offense during his first year at Michigan.

I don't doubt that Hoke will try and incorporate Denard into the offense, but seeing something resembling the transition at WVU is probably unlikely: Hoke and his staff have no experience running--or being a part of a team than ran--the spread'n'shred, so his ability to utilize it is probably limited. Therefore, I'd guess that the Michigan offense will more closely resemble the Pryor-run Ohio State teams that base most of their offense out of pro formations but are willing to unleash hellfire on teams when they're desperate or just want to show off.

Frankly, I believe that Denard will get the first look at the starting position, but it'll eventually fall to redshirt freshman Devin Gardner with wildcatty bits of Denard sprinkled in. Gardner has the size to be a prototypical pro quarterback and, as we saw in the spring game, has more touch and accuracy on long passes than Denard has. If Gardner has corrected his throwing motion and proves himself to be the more accurate passer, I wouldn't be surprised to see him start the season under center. (Also, if Forcier is able to rejoin the team, don't be surprised if he gets a more serious look at the starting role.) Denard's concerning trend of consistently throwing behind receivers and overthrowing deep passes may be his undoing in a system that largely relegates his running ability to intermittent plays and QB scrambles. We'll see what happens, though.

Defensive coordinator. MGoBlog stole my thunder today (well, not really because it was obvious) about who Michigan should hire as it's next defensive coordinator: Randy Shannon. To wit:
Michigan has a lot of money left over since they're paying Hoke twenty dollars and some donuts and is competing with San Diego State for the bulk of its staff. There is a guy out there with crazy recent college credentials that also comes with a reputation as a fierce recruiter. He runs the Big Ten default defense, a basic 4-3 cover two. He turned Miami—Miami!—into an APR-obliterating, arrest-avoiding team. That's Randy Shannon, kids, and we know two things:
  1. If David Brandon was serious about getting assistant pay up into the area of Michigan's peer group he's the guy who Michigan should be going after with an oversized novelty check.
  2. The chance Randy Shannon comes to Michigan is extraordinarily slim.
As I outlined yesterday, Hoke's track record on the defensive side of the ball is less than stellar, and turning around a bottom-tier defense is going to take more than one of his buddies from San Diego State. Randy Shannon defenses are fierce, and he also brings a great recruiting profile and an "in" to the Florida high schools. Unfortunately, Michigan would have to pay him about as much as they're paying Hoke, and the chances of Shannon taking a Head Coach at Miami to DC at Michigan demotion are unlikely. This should be Michigan's prime candidate. Beyond him, it's about as barren as the head coaching position.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Brady Hoke: By the numbers

Yesterday, I probably wasn't giving a fair shake to Brady Hoke in the wake of his coach speak introductory press conference. More appropriately, Hoke seemed like a good guy that was eager to get started rebuilding the program and was faced with the most mundane, obnoxious ordeal college head coaches experience: answering questions for local newspaper quotes. My general displeasure with his hiring has not subsided, though, and a fair, objective look at the past performances of his teams was in order.

The following charts are the national statistical rankings Hoke's various teams have achieved. In parenthesis are the raw data: YPG, PPG, turnover margin, and the collective record of their opponents, respectively. We'll look at each side of the ball individually.

Team Record Rushing Def Passing Def Pass Eff Def Scoring Def Def FEI Turnovers Strength of Schedule
Ball St. '03 4-8 98th (197.6) 24th (189.50) 90th 92nd (32.2)
86th (-5) 32nd (64-53)
Ball St. '04 2-9 100th (197.4) 106th (260.64) 117th 109th (36.8)
29th (+5) 99th (49-61)
Ball St. '05 4-7 105th (202.3) 95th (256.64) 110th 112th (37.8)
44th (+3) 32nd (63-49)
Ball St. '06 5-7 103rd (175.7) 115th (257.83) 100th 83rd (25.8)
51st (+1) 95th (56-68)
Ball St. '07 7-6 106th (204.3) 58th (228.00) 90th 68th (28.3) 93rd 4th (+17) 92nd (61-74)
Ball St. '08 12-1 84th (163.00) 55th (205.21) 38th 29th (20.50) 47th 38th (+5) 109th (59-80)
SDSU '09 4-8 85th (165.50) 53rd (216.50) 62nd 98th (30.50) 93rd 111th (-10) 79th (61-62)
SDSU '10 9-4 57th (148.77) 39th (205.00) 21st 35th (22.08) 45th 86th (-6) 67th (77-85)

We'll start with defense because that's supposedly Hoke's specialty. What we quickly realize that, no, it's not. Though Hoke has a reputation for being a defensive-minded guy--one of Dave Brandon's biggest selling points for him--Hoke's defenses have consistently hovered anywhere between middle-of-the-road and completely terrible. The early returns from his head coaching jaunts are understandably poor: he was taking over two historically bad programs and had lots of building to do. What's most disturbing is Ball State's continued incompetence even four and five years into Hoke's tenure.

Despite weak competition most years, Hoke's defenses only cracked the top 100 in rushing defense twice in his six years. Their passing defense was only marginally better in terms of YPG, but their passing efficiency defense tells a different story: team's didn't have to pass the ball because of a porous run defense, but when opponents did, they were successful.

The general takeaway here is that Hoke's defenses are not something to build your team on. Despite their ability to create turnovers (+17 in 2007!), his defenses do nothing exceptionally and, on average, are near the worst in the country. Any attempt to chalk this up to strong competition is easily dismissed when you look at their strength of schedule (which also hovered around the weakest in the country).

There are encouraging data points here though. For one, the Ball State team had 13 less turnovers gained in 2008 as they did in 2007, and despite that, were able to improve in almost every statistical category. This implies genuine improvement. Then again, their strength of schedule dipped significant between those two years and saw the easiest schedule of Hoke's career. I'm willing to give him the benefit of the doubt, however, and argue that his defense likely improved. Even still, they were hovering around the middle of the NCAA in most categories.

The other encouraging point of note is that the turnaround at San Diego State appears to be for real (much more about this later). With arguably the same strength of schedule from his first to second year, Hoke and defensive coordinator Rocky Long were able to make significant improvements in all relevant categories. Much like players can improve, so too can coaches. Optimism and hope for this regime can be found in what appears to be legitimate improvement by Hoke's defenses as his coaching career continued.

Team Record Rushing Passing Pass Eff Scoring Off FEI Turnovers Strength of Schedule
Ball St. '03 4-8 100th (114.83) 48th (227.5) 62nd 88th (21.75) 86th (-5) 32nd (64-53)
Ball St. '04 2-9 95th (114.27) 64th (209.0) 62nd 98th (20.45) 29th (+5) 99th (49-61)
Ball St. '05 4-7 98th (110.00) 93rd (189.0) 60th 93rd (21.18) 44th (+3) 32nd (63-49)
Ball St. '06 5-7 106th (91.92) 16th (259.3) 15th 39th (27.17) 51st (+1) 95th (56-68)
Ball St. '07 7-6 61st (148.92) 22nd (284.9) 24th 39th (31.46) 78th 4th (+17) 92nd (61-74)
Ball St. '08 12-1 31st (184.50) 24th (258.00) 12th 5th (34.93) 29th 38th (+5) 109th (59-80)
SDSU '09 4-8 116th (78.33) 30th (263.58) 73rd 85th (23.33) 93rd 111th (-10) 79th (61-62)
SDSU '10 9-4 48th (161.31) 12th (295.38) 20th 20th (35.00) 12th 86th (-6) 67th (77-85)

Just as surprising as Hoke's teams underachieving on defense is a competent-to-great offense, fronted primarily by a top-25 passing attack. In 2006, Stan Parrish replaced Ed Stults as the offensive coordinator and the passing offense never looked back. In Parrish's first year as the OC, the offense spiked significantly in production: 93rd to 16th in passing yards per game, 60th to 15th in passing efficiency, and 93rd to 39th in scoring offense. The running game was still puttering around in the bottom of the NCAA, but if your passing game is as effective as Ball State's appeared to be, the run game could be an afterthought. And eventually, even the rushing game was molded into something functional, presumably because opposing defenses were overcompensating for the pass.

Parrish did have the benefit of coordinating against one of the weakest schedule strengths for three straight years, but his consistency actually speaks to the schemes and his coaching ability. We know what the opposition was and we know what the results were. Parrish, however, didn't follow Hoke to San Diego State, but was named the head coach of Ball State, where he promptly ran the program into the ground. (This is another encouraging sign for Hoke's ability, though I don't know what the graduation rate was like when Hoke left.)

At SDSU, Hoke hired long-time offensive coordinator Al Borges. Borges runs a pass-first pro-style system which was adequately dissected by MGoBlog yesterday. Having not seen too much San Diego State game film (or knowing much about Borges' early career), I can't comment a ton on his style, personnel, or any progress they've made, but like the defensive performance at SDSU, the improvement through Hoke's two years points to a legitimate turnaround. And here, more than on the other side of the ball, the Aztecs made significant leaps in almost all categories against comparable competition. Though Hoke's offense was nowhere near the juggernaut that Rodriguez created in the last three years, there's a very real potential (especially with so many returning starters) that the offense remains in the top 25 next year. Much of that probably depends on the utilization of Denard or a significant talent leap by Devin Gardner.

What does it mean?
It means that Hoke is not quite who we thought he was with regards to his defensive acumen or his resume--some good, some bad. Only once did a Hoke team make a significant leap in the win column (the 12-1 season in 2008), and that was a year in which they had the 109th most difficult schedule; in other words, if that team hadn't succeeded, it would've looked disastrous. Then again, Hoke did craft a team that was able to take advantage of a weak schedule and did exactly what they were supposed to do. It's hard to discredit the coach or team for that.

The most encouraging aspect of Hoke's resume is what appears to be real growth by his teams in the last four years. Though not able to bring his teams into the national spotlight, it's tough to look at the numbers and not be at least slightly impressed with the improvements Ball State and SDSU made.

On the more pessimistic side of things, Hoke's inability to produce a truly elite defense is troublesome as is the continued failings of Ball State during Hoke's early career. Not only is he known primarily as a defensive coach, but we can reasonably expect that the offense will take a step back next year. If Hoke isn't able to significantly improve a moribund defense, Michigan could very realistically win less games in 2011 than they did in 2010. But with the depth that Rodriguez has created on the defensive side of the ball, barring attrition, that is probably unlikely.

In the end, Hoke is probably exactly what we've come to believe: a Lloyd Carr clone that will be able to rebuild the team to a point where it's head coaching vacancy isn't being turned down by people that haven't even been offered the job. It's still difficult to see the upside of Hoke, at least in regards to national championships and being an elite program, but he seems like a guy that is motivated, obviously loves the university, and has what appears to be a recent track record of improving downtrodden teams.