Sunday, October 14, 2012

Error Bars

Something I find irritating about all college football polls, even the vastly superior Blogpoll, is they don't give voters room to express uncertainty. A search for the phrase "I don't know, man" on MGoBlog's main page yields 70 hits; surprisingly, only six of them are from Blogpoll posts describing the hebdomadal* struggle to figure out who should be ranked 20th and who should be ranked 25th.

You could argue with a straight face that, based on results, Michigan could be the third best team in the country. After all, its only losses are to an undefeated Alabama and and undefeated Notre Dame. Michigan could be better than undefeateds like Kansas State, Oregon State, Louisville, or Rutgers, and you'd probably bet on Michigan to beat Rutgers right now.

Strict resumé balloting errs in the opposite direction and ranks each team according to how bad they could possibly be. Who has Michigan beaten? Purdue? Air Force? Illinois!? UMass!?? With a set of wins like that, you can reasonably argue that U-M is the 50th or 60th best team of the country. Especially if you argue that Notre Dame is a mirage that didn't actually beat Stanford. Resumé balloting is more honest than voting with your gut, but it still hides the fact that, six weeks into the season, where many teams should rank is still a mystery. Is Michigan third? Unlikely. Is Michigan fiftieth? Also unlikely. But we just don't know, man.

GIF of Stanford's overtime touchdown credit SBNation, obviously.
One thing we do know is the defense put in an amazing performance against Illinois.  They were held to 3.3 yards per carry (with a standard deviation of 5.1 yards). These two stats indicate that not only did the D hold the Illini in check, but that they kept them from pulling off many big runs; in fact, Illinois only had one run of over ten yards all day, the Nathan Scheelhaase dash that knocked him out of the game. If you calculate the standard error about the mean, it's 0.14 yards, suggested that if U-M and Illinois face of again and again, Michigan would hold them to under 3.5 YPC again and again and again. That's consistency. That's dominance.

On the one hand, we have a vast amount of uncertainty about how good this team is overall. On the other hand, we have a lot of evidence, especially over the last three weeks, to suggest that Greg Mattison has worked his magic once again and produced another unparalleled defense. There are lots of reasons to be confident about the second half of the season, but there are also lots of reasons to be unsure. If we can be leave this game 100% sure of anything, it's that Danielle is the luckiest girl on earth, even luckier than Tommy Rees.

Photo by Ace.
With Michigan State coming up, it's not the time for smack talk yet. Let's let Jake Ryan continue his hebdomadal smacking next Saturday and then we'll talk.

*Hebdomadal means "occuring every seven days." Similarly, "nychthemeral" mean "occurring every twenty-four hours." These words have subtly different meanings than "weekly" and "daily." English is weird. Thanks to @sgtwolverine for retweeting the word of the day.

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