Wednesday, July 05, 2006

To Buy or Not To Buy

Is This Michigan's Worst Home Schedule in 10 Years and Was It Worth Buying Tickets For?

For those of you with short attention spans this is a two part post. First, a little narative on what got me going on this random rant. Second, hard numbers of where this upcoming schedule fits into Michigan's last ten years and how these numbers may indicate future success.

PART I: Why This Year, God!? Why!?

Damn my luck. Like everyone else I paid my $10 online to the nameless, faceless Michigan athletic conglomerate in the hopes that a season ticket or two would become available. I even sent in my check to the Victors Club for good measure (more than $10). But, even as I sealed the envelope, I knew full well I had no chance in hell of getting season tickets this year or for the next fifteen.

When the letter came back telling me that I would not be able to purchase season tickets, I wasn't disappointed. I figured it would happen. Living in Chicago, with no family in Michigan and all my college friends scattered throughout the US (and nowhere near campus), a trip to Ann Arbor is an ordeal. An expensive one at that. The time, hotels, food, the drive (dear god, the drive), all conspire against such an investment of time and money. Still, I try more often than is sensible to make that trip.

Despite the headaches associated with these weekend jaunts I kept telling myself if I get season tickets, dammit, I'll go to most of the games. They'll be some stinkers. I'll eat those tickets. I'll cough up the roughly $500-600 a weekend (lodging, gas, food, booze) to hit the games. It's worth it. Besides its an investment in the future. I can't wait for that great home season when my wife and I are there, Michigan beats the crap out of Notre Dame in the Big House before going on to an undefeated season, and I get to hold that over her head all year long. One of these days it'll be worth it. But, at this point, it's just a fantasy.

Then, out of no where, a big yellow envelope appeared bearing the Michigan "Block M" and the Victors Club logo. My heart skipped a small beat as I delicately opened the envelope.

Inside was a letter from the Club telling me that while season tickets were not available, I was being offer a "partial ticket plan". (thump-thump!) The plan allowed me to purchase two seats for every game but Iowa. (thump-thump-thump!) This is not a season ticket plan, and participation in this plan does not guarantee season tickets or the availability of this plan next year. (thump?) I then proceeded to read to schedule and any remaining excitement quickly dissipated.

Vanderbilt
Central Michigan
Wisconsin
Michigan State
Northwestern
Ball State

(thud)

These were the games I would be allowed to purchase tickets for. All or nothing. The only game on the available schedule that I wanted to purchase tickets for was Wisconsin. If the offer contained an assurance that I could purchase seasons next year, I wouldn't have hesitated. But it didn't. Had the option of Iowa been there, I probably would've sucked it up and bought the package anyway knowing full well that I still wouldn't be able to purchase season tickets the next year.

So I thought about it. While the ticket prices weren't out of reach, they certainly weren't free. Was it worth the time and expense to pay for these horrid games and two good ones, just my wife and I, when we could watch them in better seats from the comfort of our living room? What the hell would I do with the Ball State, CMU, NU, or Vandy tickets (our anniversary weekend)? My desire to eat those tickets for the joy of the Wisconsin and MSU games proved to be non-existent. Especially when I know I can get tickets for those games without having to participate in the program.

Still, I wanted to do this. I called Michigan friends and supporters looking for takers. I said "As long as I get the Wisconsin game the rest are yours." I offered to defray a little more of the cost. No one bit. It turned out several of the people I called were doing the same thing I was. With a mortgage hovering on the horizon, I knew I couldn't do it. Sadly, I slid the form back into the envelope and let it sit on the kitchen counter well past the expiration date of the offer.

You can frown. You can judge me. You can call me not a true fan. Your barbs will not sting. The schedule stung me enough.

I'll still go to the Wisconsin game. I'm getting some buddies together for Northwestern, something tells me there will be seats available for that game. But in looking at the schedule, I got to thinking, is this the worst schedule we've seen in a decade or two? There are two home dates I'm excited about, Wisconsin and Iowa, and one I'm legitimately interested in, MSU. The rest? Ugh...

PART II: The 2006 Home Schedule, Where Does it Stand Over the Last Ten Years?

Do Vandy, CMU, or Ball State really crap up this schedule that badly? What about the 'Cats or Spartans? The 'Cats graduated everyone and recently lost their coach. MSU? Who knows? John L. is still there so I'm betting on "suck". Iowa's the heavy hitter of the schedule, but Wisconsin should be down this year with a new Coach and RB. Vandy? Cutler's in the NFL and there's no way they duplicate their best record in 20 years this year. Ball State and CMU? We'll leave it at that.

Here are the 2005 Records for Michigan's 2006 home scheduled opponents and the conferences they come from (for OOC, of course):

Vanderbilt: 5-6 (SEC)
Central Michigan: 6-5 (MAC)
Wisconsin: 9-3
Michigan State: 5-6
Iowa: 7-4
Northwestern: 7-4
Ball State: 4-7 (MAC)

The totals come to 43-32, and a .573% winning percentage. Not a bad strength of schedule, really. As an interesting coincidence, that number is only .01% off of Michigan's .583% winning percentage last year. This year's opponents average 5 loses a piece. Again, strangely matching last year's campaign. Scary.

Looking at the schedule, despite the numbers, you still think it sucks. Two MAC teams, a poster child for futility in Vandy, and a couple of Big Ten Teams in down years. Does it really suck as bad as you think? Well, I ran the numbers, and you can judge for yourself.

Here's the deal:
I wanted to see statistically how the 2006 home schedule stacked up. I went back and compiled the won-loss records for each team that played Michigan at home over the past ten years. You'll see that I've listed the records each team posted the year prior to playing Michigan as well. The thought behind this is to gauge, at least on paper, how tough Michigan's schedule was supposed to be going into each particular year.

You'll be able to compare the team's prior year won/loss to its actual resulting record the year it played Michigan in the Big House. The records compiled are only for the teams playing Michigan in Ann Arbor. If you're scratching your head looking for Michigan State or Ohio State scores in each year, you're wasting your time. Remember, those two teams rotate home games with Michigan. (HT: http://cfbdatawarehouse.com/index.php couldn't have done it without their database.)

Looking back a few years at the schedules you get the following teams Michigan played at home and their records coming into that season.

Michigan Home Schedules and Their Opponent's W/L Record from the Previous Year:

2005: Northern Illinois (9-3), Notre Dame (6-6), Eastern Michigan (4-7), Minnesota (7-5), Penn State (4-7), Indiana (3-8), OSU (8-4)

2004: Miami of Ohio (13-1), San Diego State (6-6), Iowa (10-3), Minnesota (10-3), Michigan State (8-5), Northwestern (6-7)

2003: Central Michigan (4-8), Houston (5-7), Notre Dame (10-3), Indiana (3-9), Illinois (5-7), Purdue (7-6), OSU (14-0)

2002: Washington (8-4), Western Michigan (5-6), Utah (8-4), Penn State (5-6), Iowa (7-5), Michigan State (7-5), Wisconsin (8-6)

2001: Miami of Ohio (6-5), Western Michigan (9-3), Illinois (5-6), Purdue (8-4), Minnesota (4-7), OSU (8-4)

2000: Bowling Green (5-6), Rice (5-6), Wisconsin (10-2), Indiana (4-7), Michigan State (10-2), Penn State (5-7)

1999: Notre Dame (9-3), Rice (5-6), Purdue (9-4), Illinois (3-8) , Northwestern (3-8), OSU (11-1)

1998: Syracuse (9-4), Eastern Michigan (4-7), Michigan State (7-5), Indiana (2-9), Penn State (9-3), Wisconsin (8-5)

1997: Colorado(10-2), Baylor (4-7), Notre Dame (8-3), Northwestern (10-2), Iowa (9-3), Minnesota (4-7), OSU (11-1)

1996: Illinois (5-5-1), Boston College (4-8), UCLA (7-5), Indiana (2-9), Michigan State (6-5-1), Penn State (9-3)

Crunching the Expectation Numbers from the previous years you get the following winning percentages of the teams (from the previous year) in that season's strength of schedule:

2006: (winning percentage based on 2005 results) - .573 - Av. 5 losses
2005: 41-40 - .506 W% - Av. 5.71 losses
2004: 53-28 - .654 W% - Av. 4 losses
2003: 48-40 - .545 W% - Av. 5.71 losses
2002: 48-36 - .571 W% - Av. 5.14 losses
2001: 40-29 - .58 W% - Av. 4.33 losses
2000: 39-27 - .591 W% - Av. 4.5 losses
1999: 40-30 - .571 W% - Av. 5 losses
1998: 39-33 - .547 W% - Av. 5.5 losses
1997: 56-25 - .691 W% - Av. 4.17 losses
1996: 33-35-2 - .485 W% - Av. 5.83 losses

Now to take a look at how those years actually turned out with the previous year's data in our pockets.

The Resulting Records for teams playing Michigan in Ann Arbor:

2005: Northern Illinois (7-5), Notre Dame (9-3), Eastern Michigan (4-7), Minnesota (7-4), Penn State (12-1), Indiana (4-7), OSU (8-4)

2004: Miami of Ohio (7-4), San Diego State (4-7), Iowa (10-2), Minnesota (10-3), Michigan State (5-7), Northwestern (6-6)

2003: Central Michigan (3-9), Houston (7-6), Notre Dame (5-7), Indiana (2-10), Illinois (1-11), Purdue (9-4), OSU (14-0)

2002: Washington (7-6), Western Michigan (4-8), Utah (5-6), Penn State (9-4), Iowa (11-2), Michigan State (4-8), Wisconsin (8-6)

2001: Miami of Ohio (7-5), Western Michigan (5-6), Illinois (10-2), Purdue (6-6), Minnesota (4-7), OSU (8-4)

2000: Bowling Green (2-9), Rice (3-8), Wisconsin (9-4), Indiana (3-8), Michigan State (5-6), Penn State (5-7)

1999: Notre Dame (5-7), Rice (5-6), Purdue (7-5), Illinois (8-4) , Northwestern (3-8), OSU (11-1)

1998: Syracuse (8-4), Eastern Michigan (3-8), Michigan State (6-6), Indiana (4-7), Penn State (9-3), Wisconsin (11-1)

1997: Colorado(5-6), Baylor (2-9), Notre Dame (7-5), Northwestern (5-7), Iowa (7-5), Minnesota (3-9), OSU (11-2)

1996: Illinois (2-9), Boston College (5-7), UCLA (5-6), Indiana (3-8), Michigan State (6-6), Penn State(11-2)

Crunching The Resulting Numbers from Michigan's Home Opponents:

2006: (winning percentage based on 2005 results) - .573 - Av. 5 losses
2005: 50-29 - .633 - Av. 4.14 losses
2004: 42- 29 - .592 - Av. 4.14 losses
2003: 38-49 - .437 - Av. 7 losses
2002: 48- 40 - .545 - Av. 5.71 losses
2001: 39-31 - .557 - Av. 5.17 losses
2000: 26-42 - .382 - Av. 7 losses
1999: 34-36 - .486 - Av. 6 losses
1998: 41-29 - .586 - Av. 4.83 losses
1997: 40-43 - .482 - Av. 6.14 losses
1996: 32-38 - .457 - Av. 6.33 losses

Looking at the numbers, it appears I may have underestimated the upcoming season.

Taking the previous year's won-loss records this year's schedule, at least mathematically, projects out to a .573 winning percentage for the visiting teams. Such a winning percentage would place the 2006 season as the 4th toughest of Michigan season's over the last ten years. In terms end of season results, if the records bear out, it would also be 4th best winning percentage from its opponents Michigan has faced in the last ten years.

Michigan's records for the last ten years are as follows:
2005: 7-5
2004: 9-3 (Big Ten Co-Champs [Rose Bowl!])
2003: 10-3 (Big Ten Champions [Rose Bowl!])
2002: 10-3
2001: 8-4
2000: 9-3 (Big Ten C0-Champs)
1999: 10-2
1998: 10-3 (Big Ten Co-Champs)
1997: 12-0 (National Champions [Rose Bowl!] & Big Ten Champions)
1996: 8-4

Now take a look at Michigan's Results Compared to that Season's Home Opponent's Projected and Actual Results:

YEAR: Record - Projected W% - Actual W%
2005: 7-5 - .506% - .633%
2004: 9-3 - .654% - .592%
2003: 10-3 - .545% - .437%
2002: 10-3 - .571% - .545%
2001: 8-4 - .58% - .557%
2000: 9-3 - .591% - .382%
1999: 10-2 - .571% - .486%
1998: 10-3 - .547% - .586%
1997: 12-0 - .691% - .482%
1996: 8-4 - .485% - .457%

Comparing the projected and actual schedule strength to Michigan's results doesn't help to explain its results. While last year's results can be explained (in some measure) by the gaudy .633% winning percentage of Michigan's opponents, Michigan's posted 9 win and 10 win seasons against its second and third toughest resulting schedules. 2004 contained cupcakes Miami (OH) and San Diego State while 1998 featured home delights 'Cuse and Eastern Michigan. On its fourth toughest resulting schedule, Michigan laid an egg and went 8-4. Looking at the projected W/L records doesn't help much either. Last year's schedule was the 2nd lowest incoming winning percentage in ten years, and we got whupped. Our lowest incoming winning percentage resulted in an 8-4 season. Michigan played its best when the incoming winning percentages were at .600 or above. The incoming .573% is in that no-man's land between 8-4 and 10-2.

If the 2005 home schedule is looked at closely, it provides a little home optimism in comparison. Two OOC MAC cupcakes at home plus Notre Dame. Two cupcake wins, one heartbreaker. This year no heartbreaker, two OOC MAC cupcakes and a SEC cupcake in Vandy. Mmmmmm.... cupcakes....

The best comparison for the 2006 schedule appears to be 2002. Michigan beat down a Washington team it should've better in Seattle the prior year. Then it took out MAC cupcake Western Michigan and pounded a not-ready-for-prime-time Utah team. 3 out of conference home wins. Michigan went on to a 10-3 season.

Looking at the projected and resulting numbers, the .571% projected and .541% resulting winning percentages look most similar to what our 2006 home schedule has laid before us. You also have to remember that in 2002, Ohio State was away. Michigan State, Wisconsin and Iowa dot the 2002 and 2006 schedules. The Big Ten opponents and OOC cupcakes line up the same as 2002.

If Michigan can hold serve, this could end up a 10 win season after all. At least that's what 2002 is telling me. Maybe there is reason to be a little more optimistic. Maybe I should've put in for more tickets. Maybe we'll surprise. The schedules as composite data tells us little, other than Michigan is unpredictable every season except in 4th and short. However, the individual schedules provide some hope for comparison's sake.

Contrary to my earlier opinion, this is not Michigan's worst home schedule in a decade. In fact, based on the previous year's numbers, it sits 4th out of 11 seasons in terms of incoming strength of schedule.

Knowing what I know now, maybe I should've gotten those tickets. But its too late now. All I know is that I just killed a little more time while waiting for kick off.

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