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Inside the Numbers: Will Michigan Go Bowling?

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With a 3-4 record heading into its first bye week, Michigan must win three of its final five games to be bowl-eligible. Do the Wolverines have high odds of participating in a bowl game this season? Find out below.

Andrew Weber-USA TODAY Sports

The expectation is to win the Big Ten championship.

Michigan fans have heard Brady Hoke express this sentiment about -- oh, I don't know -- maybe a bazillion times the past four years. For example [emphasis mine]:

We've won 42 Big Ten championships. The goal every year -- and I have told the players -- the expectation is to win the Big Ten championship. And that is where it starts. If we don't do that, we got to retool it, re-fix it, do whatever we have to do because we're going to do that for Michigan.

Do you want to know when Hoke said this? January 12, 2011, one day after the Michigan athletic department officially announced him as Michigan's new head football coach.

Here is another example [emphasis mine]:

Our expectations every year, you always have an expectation to win every game. You have an expectation, and we still always will, of winning the Big Ten championship. Have we played as well as a team on every Saturday? No. Do we need to keep coaching harder? Yes. From the standpoint of a team that stood together and worked extremely hard every day, and like working hard for each other, there's progress that has been made. Now we have to go out and win.

Do you want to know when Hoke said this? October 6, 2014, just two days after his Wolverines fell for the third straight game and dropped to 0-2 in the Big Ten for the first time since 1967 with a loss to Rutgers. No, the Wolverines have not yet been mathematically eliminated from the Big Ten race, but the odds that Michigan wins the Big Ten East just to clinch a spot in the Big Ten Championship Game are slim. Very slim.

It is time for Hoke to focus on a new goal for Michigan for the remainder of this season: becoming bowl-eligible. A college football team with a 12-game regular-season schedule must win at least six games to be eligible for a bowl game. Entering their first bye week, the Wolverines have a 3-4 record, which means that they must win three of their final five games to earn the right to participate in the postseason.

So what are the odds that Michigan can pull this off and become bowl-eligible?

To calculate them, I used the Massey Ratings, which devised an algorithm that ranks each college football team in the nation based on the date, score, and venue of every college football game played in that particular season. This is how the algorithm works according to Kenneth Massey:

In essence, each game 'connects' two teams via an equation. As more games are played, eventually each team is connected to every other team through some chain of games. When this happens, the system of equations is coupled and a computer is necessary to solve them simultaneously.

The ratings are totally interdependent, so that a team's rating is affected by games in which it didn't even play. The solution therefore effectively depends on an infinite chain of opponents, opponents' opponents, opponents' opponents' opponents, etc. The final ratings represent a state of equilibrium in which each team's rating is exactly balanced by its good and bad performances.

This is just a basic summary. If you want to dive into the gritty details about how Massey's algorithm functions, click here.

Anyways, one of the key reasons why I used the Massey Ratings, in addition to the fact that they are a proven statistical model, is because they offer the odds a school has to win in each of its remaining games on the schedule, which can be quite helpful when you want to calculate the odds that Michigan will win at least three of its final five games. Currently, according to the Massey Ratings, here are the odds the Wolverines have been given to emerge as the victor in each of their remaining games:

Massey's Predictions for Michigan's Final Five Games of 2014
Date Opponent Odds to Win Points For Points Against
Oct. 25, 2014 at Michigan State 11% 17 35
Nov. 1, 2014 Indiana 54% 34 31
Nov. 8, 2014 at Northwestern 37% 16 21
Nov. 22, 2014 Maryland 43% 23 26
Nov. 29, 2014 at Ohio State 15% 24 38

The Massey Ratings clearly do not predict Michigan to experience much success in the second half of the season. The only game in which the Wolverines are a favorite is a home meeting with Indiana, and Michigan is not even a large favorite, although that the Hoosiers are down to their third-string quarterback has not been accounted for. Thus, the Massey Ratings expect the Wolverines to win only 1.60 more games, which, if added to their current total of three wins, only equals 4.60 wins for the season.

This falls considerably short of the six-win threshold the Wolverines must meet to be bowl-eligible, which is why their odds of going bowling this season are not promising:

Massey Projection: Michigan Football 2014 Record Chart


This is bad news for Michigan. Not only would this development rob the players of the experience of another game, it would also rob them of the invaluable benefit derived from the 15 accompanying practices, which, given this season's performance, these Wolverines could really use. Although, would 15 extra practices organized by this coaching staff really be beneficial, even if Hoke is no longer around, which seems likely?

You know what? Don't answer that. Let's not go down that rabbit hole.

Here's the real problem: in Hoke's four seasons in Ann Arbor, he has overseen a program whose wins have decreased from 11 in 2011 to eight in 2012 to seven in 2013 to what will very likely be no more than five in 2014. And, accordingly, the odds are overwhelmingly high that the Wolverines will not be bowl-eligible for the third time in the past seven seasons. This is after they appeared in a bowl game for 33 straight years from 1975 to 2007. What was once a guarantee has now become a chore for Michigan.

So Hoke can go around spewing that the expectation at Michigan is to win the Big Ten championship, which may be accurate, but the truth is that the Wolverines are not within sniffing distance of meeting it. This would be like me saying that my expectation is to marry a Victoria's Secret model. Nice to think about, but I'm no Tom Brady. Right now, all Hoke should be focused on is getting these kids to six wins. If winning the Big Ten championship is an expectation, then so should becoming bowl-eligible.

Yet there is an 82.61-percent chance Hoke cannot even do that.