Saturday, June 18, 2011

How Are You Going to Get Better?

Apropos of nothing, here's a song by the Baseball Project to listen to while you read (opens in new window).

Every fan wants their team to be better than the year before. But for all the talk about recruiting, scheme changes, hot new coordinators and senior leadership, it comes down to this: beating somebody you lost to last year. Conversely, a slide can be caused by the loss of talent or a head coach, but it will be manifested in a loss to somebody you beat last year. (jump to Notre Dame section)

For a perfect example, look at 2010 for the two programs from the football-crazed state of Alabama. The flagship university Crimson Tide were coming off a national championship season. They were a near-universal pick for No. 1 in the preseason. But at 14-0, they had nowhere to go but down. Across the state, the Auburn Tigers finished 8-5 under a first-year head coach and were bringing in a new QB from the juco ranks. Expectations were somewhat muted (23rd nationally in consensus preseason polls).

Gratuitous Saban shot.

You may recall what happened: facing a tough schedule (multiple teams had byes before facing Alabama), the Tide lost to three teams they'd beaten in 2009: South Carolina, LSU, and the hated rivals in the Iron Bowl. Auburn rode Cam Newton and the taint of scandal to the national championship by avenging losses to Arkansas, Kentucky, Georgia, LSU, and the Bammers, while dropping no others along the way.

This by the way is the work of LSUFreek, gif master of the SEC.

Let's talk about this year and about the teams we actually care about: Iowa and Notre Dame. In 2010 Iowa underachieved their way to an 8-5 season, including a bowl win over Missouri. The losses were to Arizona, Ohio State, Wisconsin, Northwestern and Minnesota. By the way I attended two of those, lucky me. Close wins (candidates to swing the other way) were Missouri, Indiana and Michigan (not technically close since it was a 10-point win, but I'm including it because it sure felt close).

How does Iowa get better? It takes a fair amount of optimism. First, you have to retain all eight wins. Iowa State on the road in the Ferentz years is always an adventure. Michigan has the most exciting (not the best) player in the Big Ten, and he's now a junior with a non-idiot for a head coach. Iowa does not do well against spread-oriented teams, and eked by Michigan twice in a row. How long does that luck last? Michigan State has a senior QB (Kirk Cousins) and revenge on their mind (getting killed by Iowa kept Sparty out of the Rose Bowl and a shot at the national championship). That's three W's into Maybes. (I'm not concerned about the non-cons, Penn State or Indiana. Any bowl game is a toss-up.)

As for losses into wins: The non-conference loss @Ariz. could be replaced by a win at home vs. Pitt and all their coaching drama. You would think Iowa is capable of beating Northwestern and Minnesota midseason, as long as the QB and RB positions are settled, but Fitzgerald seems to have our number. That's three L's into weak Maybes. (Wisconsin is still a tough game, and suddenly depleted Ohio State is replaced by a season-ending border rivalry with the resurgent Huskers.) I don't see an improvement on 7-5 with a real chance for a backslide.

Iowa: 2010 vs. 2011
2010 Opp.Result2011 Opp.Result
E. Illinois WinTenn. Tech ?
Ia. State Win @Ia. State ?
@ArizonaLoss Pitt ?
Ball St. Win ULM ?
Penn St. Win@Penn St. ?
@Michigan WinN'western ?
Wisconsin Loss Indiana ?
Mich. St.Win @Minnesota ?
@Indiana Win Michigan ?
@N'western Loss Mich. St.?
Ohio St.Loss @Purdue ?
Minnesota Loss @Nebraska ?

Notre Dame also eked out an 8-5 but in a much different manner: limping to 4-5 and then closing with four straight wins including a bowl win over Miami. The losses were Michigan, Michigan State, Stanford, Navy and Tulsa. Close wins were Pitt and Southern Cal.

How does Notre Dame get better? First off, Navy damn well better become a win. No more of this losing to Navy shit; Kelly and Diaco should have learned that. You'd like to think we'll flip at least one of the Mitten/Mitten State combo into a win. Both were last-minute losses. Michigan, despite breaking in a new coach, will have a ton of motivation with the first ever night game at Michigan Library Stadium.

South Florida replaces Tulsa and I think in the home opener, that's a win. (Stanford is weaker without coach Harbaugh and FB/LB/bulldozer Owen Marecic, but Luck is still one of the best QBs in the game and I see this as a likely loss.) That is three L's into pretty reasonable W's.

As for retaining wins: Purdue, BC, Wake Forest (replacing Western Michigan if only for the "W" in their name), Maryland (replacing Utah), and Air Force (replacing Army) are all winnable. Pitt SHOULD be winnable but it is a home game for them. USC is a complete enigma as long as Kiffin is in charge. No doubt they will be motivated for the night game, but will they be disciplined? Talented? Prepared? Since it is unlikely to keep all eight in the win column, let's say one flips to a loss (any bowl game is a toss-up).

Notre Dame: 2010 vs. 2011
2010 Opp.Result2011 Opp.Result
PurdueWinSo. Fla?
MichiganLoss@Michigan ?
@Michigan St. Loss Michigan St.?
Stanford Loss @Pitt ?
@BCWin@Purdue ?
Pitt WinAir Force ?
W. Michigan Win Southern Cal ?
Navy Loss Navy ?
Tulsa Loss @Wake Forest ?
Utah Win vs. Maryland ?
Army Win BC ?
Southern Cal Win @Stanford ?

That's still a net gain of two for a regular season of 9-3, which I would take as solid improvement over 7-5 and 6-6 the year before.

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