(Bump for a preemptive strike on the haters. -- Pete)
When faced with something unexpected, people often want to find an example from the past that shows that the new thing they just saw can be closely compared to something they already know about. To reassure themselves this new occurrence is still basically something familiar. And if the example allows them to make a comfortable prediction about the future that further reassures them, then all the better. This reaction is particularly widespread in sports.Everyone or everything is the Next _______ , even when they aren't.
So, as we head into the 2011 season, there seems to be a comparison that popped up during the 2010 MSU football season and hasn't gone away in the months since the games ended. Michigan State's rivals, doubters, and prognosticators all seem to fall back into the same easy comparison: the 2010 Spartans are an awful lot like the 2009 Hawkeyes and (this is sometimes stated outright and sometimes implied) the 2011 Spartans will be as disappointing as the 2010 Hawkeyes.
The narrative goes a little like this: A Big Ten team starts out with long, school record, winning streak against all popular expectations. In a season of close games, memorable comebacks, and painful interceptions returned for touchdowns, the team beats the odds to finish with an 11-2 record and ends the year with high hopes for the following season.
Those sentences could describe either team at first glance, but ultimately the two are more different than they are similar. Yes, Michigan State needed a few impressive 4th quarter comebacks to beat some wannabe spoilers, a situation most teams who win championships find themselves in at one point or another. But it was nothing compared to the concentrated American Cuckoo Juice that kept the Iowa machine rumbling through 2009. The teams just aren't that similar.
MSU could follow the 2010 Hawkeyes and be a disappointment this next year, but it won't be because they were carbon copies of the 2009 Hawkeyes. It'll be some other, awful reason. Because, in case you forgot, the 2009 Iowa Hawkeyes were ****ing. CRAZY.
Now let me prove it.
First, let's look at how the teams performed in their 11 victories. Let's see how they stacked up at halftime, how they compare when entering the 4th quarter, and how many points they ultimately won by.
|2010 Michigan State in Victories|
|MSU v. WMU||MSU v. FAU||MSU v. ND||MSU v. No. Co.||MSU v. WIS||MSU v. UM||MSU v. ILL||MSU v. NU||MSU v. Minn||MSU v. PUR||MSU v. PSU||Averages|
|At halftime||28-7||20-7||7 – 7||35-0||20-10||17-10||3 – 6||7 – 17||21-0||13-21||14-3|
|Halftime point differential||21||13||0||35||10||7||-3||-10||21||-8||11||8.82|
|After 3rd Q||35-14||27-14||21-21||42-0||27-17||31-10||16-6||14-24||24-0||13-28||21-3|
|3rd Q point differential||21||13||0||42||10||21||10||-10||24||-15||18||12.18|
|Final point differential||24||13||3||38||10||17||20||8||23||4||6||15.09|
|2009 Iowa in Victories|
|IOWA v. No. IOWA||IOWA v. ISU||IOWA v. UA||IOWA v. Ark. St.||Iowa v. PSU||IOWA v. UM||IOWA v. WIS||IOWA v. MSU||IOWA v. UI||IOWA v. Minn||IOWA v. GT||Averages|
|At halftime||3 – 10||14-3||14-10||14-7||5 – 10||20-14||3 – 10||3 – 3||7 – 21||9 – 0||14-7|
|Halftime point differential||-7||11||4||7||-5||6||-7||0||-14||9||7||1.00|
|After 3rd Q||10 – 13||28-3||17-10||21-7||5 – 10||23-21||10 – 10||3 – 6||14-24||12 – 0||17-7|
|3rd Q point differential||-3||25||7||14||-5||2||0||-3||-10||12||10||4.45|
|Final Score||17-16||35-3||27-17||24-21||21-10||30-28||20-10||15-13||42-24||12 – 0||24-14|
|Final point differential||1||32||10||3||11||2||10||2||18||12||10||10.09|
What do we see here? MSU ultimately was much more comfortable in its victories than Iowa was. At halftime the Spartans could count on being about 8 points up by average, by the 4th quarter they were up by an average of two scores at a little over 12 points, and by the end of the game, opposing teams were put away by an average of over two touchdowns (about 15 points).
On the other hand Iowa entered its 11 wins with only an average of a 1 point lead (!), and entering the final quarter their opponents still trailed by only an average of 4.5 points, before the Hawkeyes were able to use strong 4th quarters to put teams away to the tune of an average of about 10 points.
Now let's look at how often the teams found themselves in 'risky' situations that require 'luck' to bail them out.
|MSU trailed at the half||3|
|IOWA trailed at the half||4|
|MSU up by single digits or tied at the half||2|
|IOWA up by single digits or tied at the half||5|
|MSU trailed entering 4th Q||2|
|IOWA trailed entering 4th Q||4|
|MSU up by single digits or tied entering the 4th Q||1|
|IOWA up by single digits or tied entering the 4th Q||3|
|MSU wins by 3 or less||1|
|Iowa wins by 3 or less||4|
|MSU wins by 8 or less||4|
|Iowa wins by 8 or less||4|
What's the conclusion? MSU trailed, was tied, or lead by single digits entering the 4th quarter in 3 out of their 11 victories. By comparison, Iowa was in the same situation in 7 out of their 11 wins. That's a sizable difference, right?
The two team's losses are even more different from each other, as the data shows:
|Michigan State in Defeats|
|MSU v. IOWA||MSU v. Ala||In Losses|
|Halftime point differential||-30||-28||-29|
|After 3rd Q||0-37||0-42|
|3rd Q point differential||-37||-42||-39.5|
|Final Score||6 – 37||7 – 49|
|Final point differential||-31||-42||-36.5|
|Iowa in Defeats|
|IOWA v. NU||IOWA v. OSU||In Losses|
|At halftime||10 – 14||3 – 10|
|Halftime point differential||-4||-7||-5.5|
|After 3rd Q||10 – 14||10 – 10|
|3rd Q point differential||-4||0||-2|
|Final Score||10 – 17||24-27|
|Final point differential||-7||-3||-5|
Iowa kept their losses very close, making sure that even their defeats were nailbiters. Michigan State, uh... didn't do that so much.
Let's look at the difference in the losses:
|MSU trailed at the half||2|
|IOWA trailed at the half||2|
|MSU down by single digits or tied at the half||0|
|IOWA down by single digits or tied at the half||2|
|MSU trailed entering 4th Q||2|
|IOWA trailed entering 4th Q||1|
|MSU down by single digits or tied entering the 4th Q||0|
|IOWA down by single digits or tied entering the 4th Q||2|
|MSU lost by single digits||0|
|Iowa lost by single digits||2|
With MSU, (with a few memorable exceptions) you knew that if they were going to win, they were going to win pretty comfortably and if they lost they were going to get destroyed. Only 4/13 games were within one touchdown when the clock hit zeros, only 1 of those games was by 3 points or less, and one of those games would have required a 2-pt conversion by MSU's opponent to tie the game up.
With Iowa, you were flipping a coin that read 'WTF?!' on both sides almost every game, resulting in a team that could lead you to say 'they could have been 13-0 just as easily as they could have been 7-6' and actually have that be true for once. An astounding six games were decided by a touchdown or less, an even more astounding five games out of those six were decided by 3 points or less.
Both teams had good seasons and both required at least a few comebacks against inferior teams to have those good seasons. But whether it was Michigan State winning most of the games they were 'the better team' in comfortably, or in their 'how the hell did THAT happen' defeats, it would be disrespectful to compare them to the special roller coaster ride that was the 2009 Iowa Hawkeyes. We had a wild season, but it wasn't THAT wild.
Expect to hear the phrase, 'MSU might be a better team this year and still lose more games than they did last year' A LOT during this off-season. And that statement isn't grossly wrong, after all winning 11 games is really tough. I wouldn't put money on us winning 11 games for the second year in a row. But in expecting a drop off, it seems more likely to me to expect 9 or 10 wins, not 7 or 8. And I don't see Iowa as a very apt comparison or predictor of our upcoming season.
So don't let this become the theme of the offseason. While there is, of course, a chance that Michigan State will slide back to say, a 7-5 season, it is highly unlikely given how they performed last season and who they return this year. Contrary to popular belief Michigan State's 2010 year was not held together with luck, paperclips, bubble gum, and pixie dust. Such a decline would require a greater change in fortunes than that seen by the 2010 Iowa team, a season we can all agree took a massive underachievement. More 'regression to the mean', more 'Angry Michigan State Football Hating God', more 'unlucky bounces' or 'bad breaks'. Simply put, I wouldn't count on it.
Furthermore, this MSU team still looks hungry after their success. They won a big ten title but, unlike 2009 Iowa, were unfairly shut out of a BCS game due to a combination of cheats and computer rankings. Coach D gets to keep the focus on the Rose Bowl targets in Skandalaris Football Center, but this time he gets to point with a finger wearing a Big Ten Title Ring. I think this team is in the top tier of the big ten and could be here to stay for a while. A significant regression in 2011 would shock me much more than our backslide in 2009. We'll see if I'm wrong.