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January 11, 2012



Just curious, where does 1901 Michigan fit and why is it so far out of first?

The Wolverines won their games 550-0 that season with Yost's point a minute offense. On a possession basis, their opponents saw the ball much more frequently than a lot of these top 1869+ defenses that were in 6-0 and 9-0 games. Any explanation?



Good question, Adam

1- like we said, the further you go back, the less sense it makes to compare teams to today's. Or even, for that era, because interplay between east and western teams wasn't common

2- Michigan's schedule was not that hard...they played Albion, Case, Buffalo (128-0), Oberlin, and Ohio State and Stanford, all of whom are not considered "I-A" by Howell's data. Not sure why OSU and Stanford aren't but that leaves Indiana, Northwestern, Carlisle, Chicago, Beloit, and Iowa as opponents.

A team's defensive rating can only as low as the average of their opponents offensive average—-they can do this by shutting out every opponent. Michigan's opponents averaged (these are adjusted values too based on defenses):

Indiana 19.7
Northwestern 15.8
Carlisle 8.03
Chicago 7.78
Beloit 12.35
Iowa 15.2

So Michigan has a defense that holds its opponents to roughly 13.1 points below average, compared to the 20s and 30s on the teams high in the charts. Their expected yield against the average I-A team was 0.89 points, despite giving up none the whole year.

So basically, Michigan didn't play teams that scored enough, to be able to undercut their scores enough by shutting them out! It's why no team from before 1893 can show up, when the averages were 5 points per game.

Not only does 1901 Michigan not make the list, they are only #4 that year on defense! That's another problem: when dealing with offense, where the sky's the limit, you can always get a comparison between great offenses. But defenses have a lower bound, and back when shutouts were routine, it's mostly a matter of whose schedule happened to be a bit harder.

As for the possession argument, that's an entirely different factor. Using score data only, we'd have to make inferences. Possession data would be a good solution to differentiate between defenses that yield only a handful of points per season.

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