Michigan Football Preview 2019

Digital Edition

The Wolverine: Covering University of Michigan Football and Sports

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Page 7 of 179

6 ■ THE WOLVERINE 2019 FOOTBALL PREVIEW E SPN analytics expert Seth Walder revealed in April which clubs have the best chance to make the 2019 College Football Playoff (CFP), and Clemson (83 percent) and Alabama (71 percent) unsur- prisingly took his top two spots, based on the website's Football Power Index (FPI) and Playoff Pre- dictor, which takes several analyt- ics into account in addition to the FPI. Michigan, however, checked in with the next-best odds at 41 per- cent, while Georgia rounded out the quartet with a 40 percent mark. "The Wolverines have failed to reach the playoff thus far, but they are in a better situation now than ever before in the playoff era," Walder wrote. "Coach Jim Har- baugh is bringing back eight starters on offense, including [senior] quar- terback Shea Patterson, who tied for eighth in Total QBR [an ESPN proprietary statistic] a season ago. "The result is that FPI expects Michigan to have the best offense (and team) in the Big Ten, catching some of its division rivals in what could be a down season. Ultimately, Playoff Predictor thinks Michigan has a 41 percent shot at the playoff. However, it's worth noting that FPI is aw- fully low on Ohio State — maybe even too low — because it isn't explicitly aware that the Buckeyes have added via transfer an elite quarterback prospect in [sophomore] Justin Fields (transfer QBs are noted in FPI only when they have significant starting experi- ence). "On the other hand, a new head coach- QB tandem does increase variance for Ohio State, and when you're at the top, variance is a bad thing. No team is in better position than Michigan to seize the reins of the Big Ten and take advantage if the new crew in Columbus doesn't work out right away. "Though Georgia — which also is bringing back a known quantity at QB in Jake Fromm — is a longer shot to reach the playoff than Michigan, Georgia has a better chance of actually winning the national championship. It makes sense: Most (including FPI) would agree that the Bulldogs are better than the Wolverines, but their path to the top four is more complicated with Alabama and LSU in the same conference." Walder only tabbed the Maize and Blue as having a seven percent chance to win the national title, which were actually the fourth- best odds in the country behind Clemson (36), Alabama (27) and Georgia (eight). The ESPN guru also projected the 10 most likely CFP matchups and U-M appeared in each of the top four outcomes — the most likely scenario involved the Wolverines taking on Alabama in a No. 1 vs. No. 4 showdown. If the Maize and Blue wind up reaching the playoff, it will mark the Big Ten's first ap- pearance in the game's grandest bracket since Ohio State's 31-0 blowout loss to Clemson in 2016. Walder noted that ESPN's Playoff Predic- tor is incredibly high on Michigan because of the offensive talent the club has returning, while SB Nation analytic expert Bill Connelly took a closer look at just how much produc- tion U-M is bringing back on each side of the ball. Connelly revealed that Michigan is return- ing 76 percent of its offensive pro- duction from 2018, which is tied for 29th in the country. It should be noted, however, that redshirt soph- omore wideout Oliver Martin (11 receptions, 125 yards, one touch- down) transferred after his calcu- lations were released, though the receiver's departure isn't likely to have much impact on those num- bers. Connelly also noted that the de- fense is only returning 50 percent of last year's productivity, which checks in at a tie for 105th nation- ally. When combining what's com- ing back on both sides of the ball for U-M, the writer explained that Michigan will see 63 percent of last season's production back in Ann Ar- bor, which is good for a modest 59th in the country. The analytics expert next took those calculations to create his pre- season S&P+ projections for every team, taking into account "recent history, returning production and recruiting." The S&P+ is a ratings system "derived from the play-by-play and drive data of all 800+ of a season's FBS college football games (and 140,000+ plays). The compo- nents for S&P+ reflect opponent-adjusted components of four of what Bill Connelly has deemed the Five Factors of college football: efficiency, explosiveness, field position and finishing drives. (A fifth factor, turnovers, is informed marginally by sack rates, the only quality-based statistic that has a consistent relationship with turnover margins.)" With all that in mind, Connelly tabbed Michigan with an overall S&P+ rating of 21.6 in his debut rankings Feb. 11, which ranked ninth in college football. As for each specific side of the ball, the numbers guru dubbed the Wolverine offense with a 38.2 rating (14th nationally) and the defense with a 16.6 mark (13th). In comparison, Michigan's offense wound up ranking 25th last year with a 35.5 tally, while its defense finished ninth nationally with a 14.3 rating. — Austin Fox ESPN's FPI, Analytics Expert Bill Connelly Are Both High On Michigan MICHIGAN FOOTBALL The offensive line and quarterback positions might be at their stron- gest ever under fifth-year head coach Jim Harbaugh, two key com- ponents for college football success. PHOTO BY PER KJELDSEN

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