Category Archives: Big Ten Football

Run the damned ball, somebody.

One thing’s for sure about having your team in the CFP — you won’t lack for analysis to read.  Over the past couple of weeks, I’ve seen just about every take imaginable in the service of predicting a winner tonight.  As interesting as much of that has been, I keep circling back to the hoariest of college football’s pearls of wisdom; namely, the team that runs the ball and stops the run best, wins.  That’s how both Georgia and Michigan are built and sometimes the obvious take is the right one.

Okay, if that’s the starting point, how do you answer the question of which team pulls that off?  Here’s what Bill Connelly ($$) sees through the prism of advanced stats.

When Michigan has the ball on standard downs*:
Michigan’s run rate: 70% (13th highest in FBS)
Michigan’s success rate: 53% (25th)
Georgia’s success rate allowed: 37% (second)

When Georgia has the ball on standard downs:
Georgia’s run rate: 64% (29th)
Georgia’s success rate: 54% (15th)
Michigan’s success rate allowed: 42% (17th)

If you want the tl;dr commentary, “Michigan’s defense is obviously rock solid on standard downs, but this appears to be a more even matchup than Georgia’s edge when the Wolverines have the ball.”

If that actually holds true tonight, we probably won’t be bitching much about Stetson Bennett’s performance.  We shall see.

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Filed under Big Ten Football, Georgia Football, Stats Geek!, Strategery And Mechanics

I know that guy.

Spider-Man Pointing at Spider-Man | Know Your Meme

I’m happy to see that Michael Elkon has returned to the blogosphere to share his thoughts as a Michigan fan about tonight’s game.  It’s an excellent read with some good insights (I would expect nothing less), but what’s most striking about his post is how familiar his psyche is to someone who follows Georgia football as closely as he follows the Wolverines.

Overall, decades of being a Michigan fan have pushed me into this game as something of a pessimist. Harbaugh’s role model is his college coach. Bo Schembechler was known for winning Big Ten titles and then losing in Pasadena, where he went 2-8. Plenty of Michigan teams went West on the high of beating Ohio State and then found themselves losing a defensive struggle to USC. The scores of those eight Rose Bowl losses? 10-3, 13-12, 14-6, 27-20, 17-10, 24-14, 22-15, and 17-10. For good measure, Bo also threw a 14-6 Orange Bowl loss to Oklahoma into that mix, the game that Ace Rothstein nails in Casino. Even though I became a college football fan in the Eighties and only started rooting for Michigan around 1988 (and for the best of reasons: I hated Notre Dame), decades of bathing in the collective anxiety of fellow Michigan fans have conditioned me to expect an exhilarating win over Ohio State in November with a frustrating, low-scoring loss in the bowl game. So take that description of historically-based pessimism, match it up against whatever angst you feel as a Dawg fan (this is truly a perfect matchup of “close, but no cigar” programs), and do as you will.

As a Dawg fan, this game represents the polar opposite of any Georgia-Alabama meeting.  There’s no arrogance in play here.  Rather, we’ve got two fan bases wallowing in the same “I want ’em to win, but I expect ’em to lose” big game mind set.  Instead of calling the game the Orange Bowl, we ought to refer to it as the Neurotic Bowl.  Don’t take my word for that, either ($$).

“Georgia fans, just like Atlanta sports fans, are quick to say, ‘Don’t look, look the other way,’” said former Bulldogs All-American David Pollack, an analyst for ESPN. “When you go undefeated through the season, you build a ton of mojo, and then when you get smacked in the mouth in the SEC Championship Game, it obviously takes a lot of the luster off. There was a lot of hope and a lot of people looking forward to the national championship and an undefeated season, and then when that happens it’s, ‘Oh, crap. This isn’t going to be as easy as a lot of people thought.’”

Sigh.  May the best team not lose.

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Filed under Big Ten Football, Georgia Football

TFW you’re writing bulletin board material without realizing it

Shot.

Chaser.

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Filed under Big Ten Football, SEC Football

Moar Michigan

I continue to scour the Intertubes for information about Georgia’s upcoming opponent.  Here, for example, is a massive breakdown of the Wolverines’ offense from SecStatCat.  For starters:

Michigan is a multiple-formation offense rooted in gap scheme designs. While it’s not quite of the mold of archaic, smashmouth attacks that littered the Big Ten for decades, the Wolverines very much prefer to slug it out with trench warfare. After all, their most repped concept against their four most challenging opponents was Counter, a classic, hard-nosed power run.

Blue has trotted out multi-tight end sets on nearly 40% of its snaps, which tracks as one of the highest marks in the SEC. But despite appearances and the perceived effect at wilting run defenders, 12/13 personnel hurt this offense’s efficiency in our sample. Modball and “three yards and a cloud of dust” delivered an underwhelming 3.9 Yards/Carry and 6.7 Yards/Pass. The Wolverines’ such Success Rate was five points below the average in SEC play with both facets respective clips souring.

On early downs, Jim Harbaugh’s horde established It on 57% of its early downs in those matchups. The average in SEC play this season was 50%. Compared to offenses from the Land Where It Just Means More, the Wolverines were the definition of an average offense in terms of Success Rate (45%) and Yards/Play (6.1). In these spots, their down-to-down explosiveness was akin to Texas A&M. The middling numbers unfortunately set them up for loads of 3rd down opportunities. Less than 61% of their conversions occurred on early downs – a threshold only LSU, Missouri, and Vanderbilt failed to beat in SEC play.

However, the conservative modus operandi consistently conjured manageable latter down chances thanks to hardly moving backwards. The Wolverines only tallied seven negative plays (including one sack) on 1st or 2nd down against their hardest opponents. By a rate basis, not even Georgia’s strong on-schedule steam engine bests Michigan’s 3.3% clip in this context.

The Wolverines averaged a mere 5.4 yards to gain on thirds versus their top foes, which facilitated firm figures in those spots. Their 43.9% Success Rate wasn’t far off from their cumulative clip in our sample nor their 45.1% figure across all of 2021, which is top 25-worthy ahead of bowl season. The short porch tries also led to more aggressiveness from the Khaki King in terms of going for it on 4th downs. On the year, Michigan has attempted the 19th-most such attempts with 24. Ten of them occurred in our four game sample; seven worked out for the Wolverines. Again, this offense has no issue playing small, getting gritty, or testing the fortitude of opposing fronts.

And while the run-heavy style theoretically presents possibilities to pummel itchy defenses with deception tactics, only about a tenth of Cade McNamara’s attempts used play action. While there’s a point of not giving iffy passers too many instances of taking their eyes coverages before firing a downfield strike, this is a concerted effort by this staff’s part. And looking at the production, fading play action was justified. Michigan’s Yards/Pass and Success Rate both worsened on play fakes. Plus, this staff noticeably had an aversion for RPOs…

Honestly, that sounds more manball-ish than Georgia is.  And not as successful.  So what is working in the run game?  Motion.

The Wolverines’ panache also shows up with how they utilize at-the-snap motion. “Shoot”, or escort, motion has been a budding novelty within the SEC the last couple of seasons. Instead of asking a motioner jetting across the formation to function as simple eye candy or as a quick pass outlet, this subset of motion calls for these dudes to be key blockers. Formations create advantageous pre-snap angles, motion affects the numbers at the point of attack, and the timing element allows for positive blocking inertia. Plus, it allows offenses to run multi-headed run looks from 2×2 or trips. When not using shoot motion to help set up an RPO outlet, SEC offenses have primarily used it on split zone designs with tight ends mostly being the shooter. But, others like Tennessee and South Carolina have dabbled with Counters and Inserts.

No SEC offense comes close to matching Michigan’s affinity for this tactic. A tenth of the Wolverines’ snaps used Jet motion; and of those 28 plays, 24 were categorized as shoots. Plus, Blue’s receivers periodically get in on the action, which has expanded the potential offerings. Michigan has repped Split Zones, “double bluff” Zone Reads, Double Traps, Off-Tackles, and Counters when shooting either a wideout or a tight end. The Wolverines have only tried two passes with this tactic; both were successful Flea Flickers. And while a 3.7 Yards/Carry won’t excite, the versatility fueled a 50% Success Rate against Michigan’s hardest foes.

Additionally, Harbaugh and Co. use just enough ordinary pre-motion to prevent offerings from becoming too stale. Deployed on 14.3% of snaps in our sample, only four SEC teams finished under that benchmark in league play. Yet like shoot motion, reconstructing formations on the fly resulted in some of Michigan’s best outputs. The Wolverines’ Yards/Play increased to 6.5 with  61.0% and 52.6% Rushing and Passing Success Rates, respectively.

There’s plenty more to read there, if you’re interested.  Needless to say, it’s a very different approach than Alabama’s was.

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Filed under Big Ten Football, Strategery And Mechanics

It’s Thursday night in Minnesota.

The problem with making sure your broadcast partner is kept happier than your fans…

“… some weird one-off because it’s a Thursday” isn’t a bug for the BTN, my friend.  It’s a feature.

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Filed under Big Ten Football

“It looked like the same movie.”

Know despair.

Players and coaches spent the offseason focusing on the errors that have contributed to Nebraska going 12-20 with three fifth-place finishes in the Big Ten West Division since Frost returned to the program he quarterbacked to a national title in 1997. Frost felt he had his best team entering the season, one with the experience and maturity to play cleaner games in a conference that punishes the error prone.

But Huskers blunders contributed to almost every Illinois score on Saturday, starting with Cam Taylor-Britt catching a punt inside of his 2-yard line and being dropped for a safety while attempting to fling the ball out of the end zone. Nebraska appeared to be in control up 9-2 when Taylor-Britt intercepted a pass from Illinois backup quarterback Art Sitkowski. But linebacker Caleb Tannor was flagged for roughing Sitkowski, and also received an unsportsmanlike conduct foul on the play. The Illini drove for a game-tying touchdown.

Disaster struck in the final minute of the first half as Martinez fumbled and Illinois’ Calvin Hart Jr. recovered and raced 41 yards to the end zone. Nebraska’s lone turnover along with five penalties and two missed extra-point attempts from Connor Culp, the 2020 Big Ten Kicker of the Year, all contributed to the program’s first-ever loss in August.

Nebraska lost to an inferior opponent by 8 in a game where it missed two PATs, gave up a cheap safety on a misjudged punt and a touchdown on a scoop and score.  Frost got outcoached by Bert, who hadn’t coached a college game in three seasons.  Four years into his term and his team looks like a complete mess.

Worse, though, is how you go about replacing him as the season goes south.  He’s got a huge buyout and if the hometown hero can’t fix things, who’s out there who can?

The only fans who are less happy than Husker fans appear to be Georgia fans who believe that a head coach who can’t enjoy some level of success over his first five years against Nick Saban is a failure.

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Off to a roaring start

Well, heavens to Betsy, I’m old enough to remember just *** checks notes *** three days ago that Pete Thamel and Dan Wetzel were warning all of us that scheduling hell was about to be unleashed on the poor ol’ SEC.

The new scheduling should create additional marquee games and perhaps increased television money, while potentially squeezing the SEC in non-conference scheduling.

Four ACC teams have annual games with in-state SEC rivals — Clemson-South Carolina, Georgia Tech-Georgia, Florida State-Florida and Louisville-Kentucky. Those games would continue, but there would be a decided lack of available non-conference dates for other SEC teams seeking major opponents.

You mean like this, fellas?

The cherry on top of that particular sundae is putting the game on ESPN.  That’ll show ’em the Alliance means business!

And even when they’re not, it appears.  Curious, indeed.

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Filed under ACC Football, Big Ten Football, ESPN Is The Devil, Pac-12 Football, SEC Football

Dear Idiots,

You’ve got to hand it to the Alliance geniuses.  One day in, and they’re already making enemies.

Maybe all the PR bullshit wasn’t such a good idea, eh?

Meanwhile, Greg Sankey’s all “if you don’t hang out with the other mean kids, you can’t violate antitrust law”.

Roll Safe GIFs | Tenor

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Filed under ACC Football, Big Ten Football, Pac-12 Football, See You In Court

Whole lotta nothin’

I’m not sure who thought it was a good idea for the commissioners of the ACC, Big Ten and Pac-12 to meet the press yesterday, because to say the end result was underwhelming is probably selling that term short.  For all the highfalutin jabbering, this would have sufficed instead.

That’s it.  That’s the Alliance (or ‘Alliance’, if you’re Dan Wetzel).

It was a presser that was longer on motive than substance.

“I wouldn’t say this is a reaction to Texas and Oklahoma joining the SEC,” Warren said, “but I think to be totally candid, you have to evaluate what’s going on in the landscape of college athletics. … This is a year for seismic shifts, and I think it’s really important to make sure that you are aware of all these different things going on, and make sure that from our individual conferences that we do all we can to make sure we protect our conferences and build strong relationships to make sure that we protect our student-athletes.”

When they say it’s not about the SEC, it’s about the SEC.  When they say it’s about doing it for the kids, it’s about the SEC.

It’s not a coincidence that trust became a key talking point among these three commissioners. The lack of trust that followed Texas and Oklahoma’s decision to join the SEC was the springboard for creating this alliance, and it’s the underlying reason why other leagues are not currently involved. Kliavkoff even joked that the information surrounding the the 12-team playoff expansion hasn’t changed since the idea was first floated, but “who knows about it has changed” — a not-so-subtle dig at SEC commissioner Greg Sankey, who helped design the format while also negotiating with Oklahoma and Texas.

Maybe they think peer pressure will get Sankey to reverse his expansion decision.

So where does this go?  Beats me.  I doubt the three commissioners and their 41 schools have the first clue.

But the bigger reason for the “gentleman’s agreement” is that no one really wants this to be formal. For one, the Alston case is at the forefront of everyone’s minds, and three conferences colluding on the future of the NCAA in any official capacity would be a big red flag with antitrust litigation looming. Moreover, there are 41 schools involved here, and putting any formal language together would likely create some dissent. If there’s no concrete language beyond a general agreement to keep talking, the support is unanimous. Once specific language is on a page and signatures get attached, the potential for blowback ratchets up a lot.

Is conference expansion off the table?  For the next fifteen minutes, anyway.  But let’s not forget we’re watching the Big Ten, which took Maryland off the ACC’s hands in its last round of expansion, singing in the kumbaya chorus.  I doubt these guys really trust each other that deeply; they just trust each other a little more than Greg Sankey.  Is it better to be trusted than feared?  Ask again after the next round of broadcast deals comes to light.

What about the 12-team playoff?

The most telling comment about the playoff came in a Zoom call the three commissioners had with ESPN after their news conference. “I think that people are really focused on being thoughtful, and very methodical in this issue,” Warren said. “So I know from where the Big Ten stands from is we’re still gathering information. We will be prepared by the time we walk into that meeting on Sept. 28. But I don’t think where we are with the turbulence that exists in college athletics. You know, anything as we go forward will be a rubber stamp, I think everyone is going to look through their decision-making process through critical eyes.”

“There still are some unanswered questions there,” Phillips said. “And that’s why I don’t think anybody could definitively say, ‘Hey, we’re ready to vote yes or no on it.'”

Translation:  fuck you, Sankey and ESPN, but, yeah, we’d like the money, anyway.

Scheduling?

As Phillips said, “We are bullish on scheduling, as it will elevate the national profile of all of our teams by playing from coast to coast, with college fans across the country as the beneficiaries.” But as for a timeline … nobody was going there just yet. The truth is, we are going to have to potentially wait years for that to happen. First, all three commissioners were clear they are not going to tear up existing scheduling agreements. Because of the way nonconference scheduling is done, many schools are locked into games through at least the next five years.

“This is not about getting out of contracts and blowing anything up,” Big Ten commissioner Kevin Warren said. “This is about honoring those existing contracts, but also building relationships between these three like-minded conferences, as we look forward from a scheduling standpoint to see if there’s opportunity to build unique games that will come together.

“We’re really at the beginning stages of this.”

The delicious part of this is that they’re clearly jockeying for a more attractive slate of games to sell to their broadcast partners, but, for example, the Pac-12 would have to convince ESPN that it’s a benefit to reduce the conference schedule by a game.

“To move to fewer games sooner than three years, we need to have partnership with ESPN and Fox to do that,” Kliavkoff said, “although I think there’s a compelling argument that the games we could replace those with if they were in the alliance would be very compelling and worth making that move sooner. We’ll work through that with our media partners and our alliance partners.”

If you think it’s going to be a little awkward to ask the same folks you’re crapping on in a very public way to ignore that and do you a large in the next minute… well, it’s not any more awkward than the ACC’s situation, which involves an exclusive deal with Mickey for the next fifteen years.

As I’ve said for a while, the issue isn’t that ESPN has just now made itself too big to be good for the sport.  It’s that they burrowed insidiously into the sport years ago and the Clampetts are coming to the realization — the late realization — that their options are restricted.

There is the spite, though.

And in the end this was all about trying to upset the SEC, which is persona non grata after adding Oklahoma and Texas, which is what the other three leagues wish they could have done.

Maybe they should go all in on this and take a pro wrestling approach to this whole Alliance vs. SEC thing.  It’s bound to be less of a bore than what they said yesterday.

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Filed under ACC Football, Big Ten Football, Pac-12 Football, SEC Football

An Alliance, if you can keep it

So, Jed and Jed and Jed are about to make a Big Announcement.

The ACC, Big Ten and Pac-12 are set to formally announce an alliance, which pending final approvals could come as early as Tuesday, sources told Yahoo Sports. The Athletic first reported the possibility of an announcement this week.

The Alliance will center on a shared vision for the future governance of college athletics. For now, the Alliance will mean the three leagues can, among other things, form a voting block that will blunt the growing influence of an expanded SEC. It also allows three leagues that consider themselves like-minded to gain voting power on issues as the NCAA’s influence diminishes.

Can you feel the excitement?

On the scheduling front, the idea is that each football team in the three conferences would play one opponent from each of the other two leagues on an annual basis.  Sounds great, until you get into the details.  The Big Ten and Pac-12 would evidently reduce their conference schedules from nine to eight in order to accommodate this.  (The ACC is already at eight.) Notre Dame would count as an ACC team for this purpose.  Even taking all of that into account, it seems like a bunch of guaranteed games would need to be bought out to make the numbers work.  That ain’t gonna happen, so shrinking conference schedules is really the only way in the short term to open up inventory for the Alliance.

Ah, but the spite!

The new scheduling should create additional marquee games and perhaps increased television money, while potentially squeezing the SEC in non-conference scheduling.

Four ACC teams have annual games with in-state SEC rivals — Clemson-South Carolina, Georgia Tech-Georgia, Florida State-Florida and Louisville-Kentucky. Those games would continue, but there would be a decided lack of available non-conference dates for other SEC teams seeking major opponents.

Somehow, I don’t think Greg Sankey is losing any sleep over that possibility.  As I’ve said before, I’ll wait to see which Alliance school is the first to turn down a $5 million pay day to face ‘Bama in a neutral site opener.  Besides, if the SEC needs more big games, it can always increase the conference schedule; that’s what adding Oklahoma and Texas gives you.

What’s striking to me here is while the Alliance purports to be wary of ESPN’s influence, it’s adopting the exact approach Mickey already embraced that’s likely to diminish traditional passions for college football.  Dropping a conference game so that Oregon State can face Georgia Tech is the kind of swapping regionalism for national appeal that ESPN has openly pushed since the CFP came into existence.  Sure, there’s a shiny toy aspect to it that will drum up appeal in the short run, but it won’t take long for the viewing public to look for newer, shinier toys.

And that’s the thing.  If you’re hungry for a national appeal for college football, the NFL is already there for you and will likely do a better job of it.

The irony here is that the SEC, whether it’s forced into it by the other three P5s or willingly accepts it, is looking like it will be the last regional holdout.  My bet is that five to ten years from now, the Alliance is going to be comparing broadcast ratings between them and the SEC and wondering what went wrong.

As far as the rest goes, well, if the Alliance is that hung up about ESPN that they’re willing to forego playoff expansion for another few years, more power to them.  It’s not as if the SEC is going to be shut out.  And such a power play isn’t likely to win the three of them many friends between the G5 and Notre Dame.

You’ll notice I didn’t mention the Big 12 there.  That’s because the one thing it appears the Alliance will accomplish in the short run is to kill the Big 12 off for good.  The only question is how long Bowlsby’s conference clings to OU and UT to stave off complete collapse before 2025.  Enjoy it while it lasts, fellas.

In the meantime,

When they say it isn’t about the money…

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Filed under ACC Football, Big Ten Football, Pac-12 Football