December 29, 2005

2005 Michigan Wolverines - Best 7-5 team EVER?

I heard this idea on my way to work today, put forth by none other than the great mind of Mel Kiper Jr. on ESPN Radio. He made some compelling points, but I thought I would dig a bit deeper, then also follow up with a review of this theory after bowl season - you know, after three more BCS Bowl teams that Michigan lost to in 2005 play for the final time?

Here are the scores:

9/3 Northern Illinois W 33-17 (NR on Harris Poll 12/29)
9/10 Notre Dame L 17-10 (7th)
9/17 Eastern Mich W 55-0 (NR)
9/24 at Wisconsin L 23-20 (20)
10/1 at Mich St W 34-31 OT (NR)
10/8 Minnesota L 23-20 (NR)
10/15 Penn State W 27-25 (3rd)
10/22 at Iowa W 23-20 OT (25)
10/29 at Nwestern W 33-17 (NR)
11/12 Indiana W 41-14 (NR)
11/19 Ohio State L 25-21 (6th)
12/28 Nebraska L 32-28 (Alamo Bowl) (NR)

Two losses to unranked teams truly maimed their rep, although Minnesota was ranked 22nd on October 9 on the heels of that Maroney-Russell running extravaganza. You could argue that Lloyd Carr should have had a shot to win the Alamo Bowl last night if not for the poor Sun Belt officiating throughout the contest.

Let us examine how Michigan could compete with the nation’s elite, but inexpicably managed to just be better than average.

  • The average margin of loss was only 4.2 points and consumed only 49 seconds - Notre Dame controlled their low scoring contest, Wisconsin won on a TD with :24 left on the clock, Minnesota kicked a FG with :01 on the clock, and the killer was the late Antonio Pittman rushing TD by Ohio State with :24 on the clock in the Rivalry. Are you feeling me now, that this Wolverine team could have easily been undefeated?
  • The wins set an equally dramatic tone - a last second TD pass to freshman WR Mario Manningham beat Penn State, and RB Jerome Jackson scored in the bottom of the OT to beat Iowa. It is truly amazing how close the guys with the crazy helmets came to being 5-7!
  • Lack of a killer instinct could be another reason, but that is a hard variable to quantify - except by the win-loss record.
What went wrong? Mike Hart injuries and the inability to stop the run come to mind immediately. When Mike Hart plays, the Wolverines offense operates much more smoothly - without him and his healthy hamstring, the offense looked lost despite all that Chad Henne’s best efforts. Wolverines allowed 136.1 yards per game rushing, almost twice what the top-ranked Buckeyes allowed (74.5) and that inability to control the clock made all the difference in the losses.

I am going to email this article to Lloyd Carr - he could use it during his year end meeting with the Board of Regents, arguing that he should keep his job. I imagine the Regents will decide to keep him employed by a margin as close as this season was to being special.

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