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Michigan football ranked 23rd in first preseason SP+ projections

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A quick explainer on what SP+ is and how it might suggest a healthier foundation in place.

Michigan v Indiana Photo by Justin Casterline/Getty Images

The Michigan Wolverines are coming off a 2020 football season that was putrid by almost every single metric and eyeball test in the country. That necessitated some major changes around head coach Jim Harbaugh and his staff. Now the focus is on the program making sure the bottom does not fall out like that again.

One metric is still relatively bullish on the Wolverines heading into the 2021 offseason.

Bill Connelly of ESPN — and formerly SB Nation — developed the SP+ metric that has Michigan as the No. 23 team in the country ahead of next season. He mixed his projections with Mark Schlabach’s Way Too Early Top 25, which did not have the Wolverines ranked.

No. 23 Michigan
Schlabach ranking: unranked (and likely, not really considered)

SP+ is not giving up on Jim Harbaugh just yet. His Wolverines finished 2-4 in 2020, and part of the reason they only fell to 33rd in the final rankings is that their rating was still propped up by preseason ratings because of the low game total. But the combination of strong recent history (they ranked between sixth and 13th in SP+ every year from 2015-19) and solid recruiting (11th in my recruiting rankings) propped them up just enough to squeeze into the top 25. You say you’ll believe it when you see it? I concur. But at the very least, the Wolverines will be far more experienced at QB, in the skill corps and in the secondary.

So what the heck is SP+ anyways? Connelly explains the criteria here:

1. Returning production. As I wrote last week, I have updated rosters as much as possible to account for transfers, graduation and the announced return of many 2020 seniors. The combination of last year’s SP+ ratings and adjustments based on returning production now make up more than two-thirds of the projections formula.

2. Recent recruiting. Returning production aims to tell us what kind of talent and experience a team is returning. Recruiting rankings inform us of the caliber of the team’s potential replacements (and/or new stars) in the lineup. They make up about one-quarter of the projections formula. This piece is determined not only by the most recent recruiting class but also, in diminishing fashion, the last three classes as well.

3. Recent history. Last year’s ratings are a huge piece of the puzzle, but using a sliver of information from previous seasons (two to four years ago) gives us a good measure of overall program health. It stands to reason that a team that has played well for one year is less likely to duplicate that effort than a team that has been good for years on end (and vice versa), right? This is a minor piece of the puzzle, but the projections are better with it than without.

Any metric can be taken with a grain of salt, but Connelly’s provides a look at the team’s recent campaigns to inform what might be possible for the future. He is taking the approach that many of the fans are in waiting for progress before making prognostications, but the numbers suggest a healthier foundation in place than what 2020 suggested.