Math vs. History
In which Michigan football repeatedly breaks math and college coaching hires break everyone's brains.
Before I was a college history major, I was a baseball stat geek poring over Bill James books in high school. I learned to lean on probabilities, value sound process over unreliable results, and understand that small-sample outliers almost always regress to the mean.
History teaches many of the same lessons in a different way. There’s one particular tenet, however, that doesn’t always line up with math: history repeats itself, particularly when we don’t learn from it.
Michigan football is doing its best to dispel my belief in math. Here’s an incomplete list of one-score defeats since Jim Harbaugh took over as head coach in 2015. I can guarantee you that the odds of losing every one of these was damn near negligible:
2021 Michigan State: took 30-14 lead with 6:47 left in third quarter, missed more ways to put this game away than I care to enumerate, also had a touchdown overturned on replay evidence one could argue wasn’t conclusive;
2019 Penn State: won total yardage 417-283, dropped potential game-tying touchdown pass in fourth quarter;
2017 Michigan State: couldn’t drive to win the game down 14-10 in fourth quarter, John O’Korn was QB because Purdue broke Wilton Speight’s back the previous week;
2016 Orange Bowl: Michigan clawed back from a game-long deficit to go ahead 30-27 with 1:57 to go, then allowed a 66-yard kickoff return to put Florida State in position for the winning touchdown;
2016 Ohio State: the spot was debatable and frankly gets too much attention, but the missed pass interference calls and Michigan’s inability to stop a dead-to-rights Curtis Samuel in the backfield in overtime unquestionably turned this game;
2016 Iowa: Michigan blows a 10-0 lead in part because of a safety, regains a 13-11 edge in the fourth, intercepts CJ Beathard with 1:49 to play, then goes three-and-out in 26 seconds to set up Iowa’s game-winning field goal as time expires;
2015 Michigan State: trouble with the snap.
Math looks at this as a near-impossible run of bad luck. It attempts to contextualize the inexplicable. Sure, Michigan lost another heartbreaker, but by the numbers, they should’ve won!
History, on the other hand, tells us this is what we should expect. May I direct your attention back to the bulleted list? No? You hate it? Fair enough.