(MICHIGAN) -- Michigan football fans are not conditioned in their modern state to feel anything good. The sport so many of them live and die with has burned them too often over the past 20 years for many Wolverines fans to feel truly excited as the calendar flips from month to month in the fall.
This September has put these fans in a tough spot. Michigan football is off to a 3-0 start, and if you’ve watched the games or looked at the numbers, you know it’s been a crisp 3-0. The Wolverines have beaten Western Michigan, Washington and Northern Illinois by a combined 107 points, the largest cumulative margin of victory among Football Bowl Subdivision teams. Michigan was supposed to win all of these games, but there is winning and then there is covering the spread by nearly 19 points per game. Save for losing star receiver Ronnie Bell to a right knee injury for the year, it would be tough to imagine Jim Harbaugh having a smoother first three weeks of a season.
Yet Michigan fans understand how this goes. Harbaugh was 18-3 in August and September since his takeover of the program in 2015 through last season (though there were no such games for the team in 2020). That was the seventh-best winning percentage in FBS in the season’s opening stretch during those years. The problem was October and November, months in which Harbaugh has gone 30-15 — a nice enough record for most teams but not nearly enough to get Michigan over the Big Ten East hump. Many are understandably circumspect about what lies in store for 2021.
Before we go further, it’s worth doing the necessary Michigan-related hedging. The Wolverines might fall apart and lose three to five games, as they’ve done several times in recent years. They might be great but fall short in their regular-season finale against Ohio State, which is now an annual bit of misery (save for 2020) no matter what’s happened up to that point. In short, Michigan could do what Michigan has done too many times before. These potential outcomes all point to fans shielding their hearts from vulnerability. Why get too serious with a team that has hurt you? But if Michigan fans can stomach it, they should let themselves live a little bit. Three games into 2021, there is no reason Michigan won’t have Harbaugh’s big breakthrough this year.
In Harbaugh’s first six years, his offenses were good, but not great, and “good” does not win the Wolverines’ division, much less anything beyond that. From 2015 to 2020, Michigan was 19th in FBS in expected points added per game on offense, adjusted for opponent quality. The results varied a bit by year, but its most productive offense by far was in 2016, when Michigan came a J.T. Barrett fourth-down spot away from making the Big Ten Championship. That team produced an adjusted offensive EPA of 15.16 per game. That was the best college offense Harbaugh has ever fielded, save for the 2010 Stanford outfit that had Andrew Luck and various NFL pass-catchers and produced a figure of 20.19.
The Wolverines have been unable to approach their 2016 level over the last four years. But this year, Michigan leads all of FBS in adjusted offensive EPA and is tracking, at this early date, to produce the most efficient offense by EPA of Harbaugh’s career. Adjusted EPA flattens out the results some, since it accounts for the competition level faced, which means the computers aren’t calling fraud on Michigan’s excellent start.
Along the same line, Michigan’s September success looks like a shift upward even when compared only with its previous nonconference schedules. In strictly regular-season, nonconference games in Harbaugh’s first six years, Michigan’s offense was a combined 44th in adjusted EPA per game. This year, Michigan is second. And again, that’s an opponent-adjusted stat, which suggests that Michigan’s leap can’t be chalked up totally to a schedule that lacks a team like Florida or Notre Dame, two recent season-opener foes for Harbaugh’s teams.
Harbaugh’s new starting quarterback, Cade McNamara, is outdoing his predecessors in a similar way. The junior, a former four-star recruit, threw for 10 yards per attempt in nonconference games and posted a 60.5 Total QBR. Both figures put him ahead of Harbaugh’s previous starting QBs in the same situations: Jake Rudock, Wilton Speight and Shea Patterson. And Michigan’s lead tailback, Blake Corum, has blown away Harbaugh’s previous primary running backs in both yards per attempt (8.5) and missed tackles generated per touch (0.3) against teams outside the Big Ten. In various offensive areas, Michigan is lapping its old self.
On defense, the Wolverines are under new management this fall. First-year coordinator Mike Macdonald arrived in the offseason from the Baltimore Ravens, where he had worked since 2014 for Harbaugh’s brother, John. (Macdonald was going to be co-defensive coordinator with fellow new hire Maurice Linguist, but Linguist left to take the top job at Buffalo before the season.) Macdonald replaced Don Brown, who’d been Michigan’s defensive coordinator since 2016 and had a reputation for his infatuation with two things: blitzes and man coverage. During Brown’s time in charge, the Michigan defense played man-to-man coverages on 48 percent of opposing dropbacks, the ninth-highest rate in the country. (The average was 33 percent.) In front of all coverages, Michigan blitzed 12.6 times a game, 10th-most in FBS. So far in 2021, the Wolverines have kept playing a lot of man coverage, though less than before — 40.7 percent of the time, which still ranks ninth. Their blitzing has also eased up a bit, to 10.33 times per game (tied for 46th-most).
It’s a little early to know what shape Macdonald’s defense will take the rest of the way, but it looks like his plan is working. In nonconference, regular-season games under Brown, Michigan was fifth in adjusted defensive EPA per game. Under Macdonald, Michigan is 19th in the same situations — a step back overall, but not compared to Brown’s most recent work. There’s no way to make an apples-to-apples comparison from last year to this year because there were no nonconference Big Ten games last fall. But the early returns say Michigan’s defense has cleaned up a 2020 mess where the Wolverines finished the season an ugly 109th in adjusted defensive EPA per game overall. This year, Michigan is 16th, and its straightforward yards allowed per play are down at this point from 5.6 to 4.5. Even if the defense regresses significantly in Big Ten play, it looks like the bleeding from 2020 has slowed.
Michigan has played what looks like a light schedule, but it’s not that hard to look at it in the right light and see something decent. WMU beat Pitt, NIU beat a Georgia Tech team that is probably bad but almost beat Clemson, and Washington looked dysfunctional but has one of the more talented rosters in college football.1
Whatever you think of this schedule, Michigan has pulverized it to an unusual extent. Forward-looking projection systems tend to believe, even if lots of humans aren’t there yet. Bill Connelly’s SP+ and ESPN’s FPI, two opponent-adjusted systems, each have Michigan No. 6 overall. In SP+, the Wolverines rank 12th on offense, eighth on defense and second on special teams. In the AP Top 25, Michigan is 19th, which is fair for now and may turn out to look low.
The Big Ten might be ripe for the picking, too, or at least more so than usual. The conference has a lot of interesting teams that weren’t at all interesting last year. Penn State looks like a serious contender. Iowa has a punishing defense, Michigan State seems to be getting back to some of its mid-2010s ways, and even Maryland and Rutgers are presently undefeated. But the league’s biggest hoss looks more vulnerable than usual. Ohio State is 37th in Defensive SP+ and has already taken play-calling responsibilities away from its defensive coordinator.
The Game is in Ann Arbor this year, and that combined with a slightly reduced OSU gives Michigan one of its best chances in a while. Predicting a Michigan win would be foolish, but for a rare change, so would be dismissing the possibility out of hand that the Wolverines give their much more successful rival a lot to handle.
(LAS VEGAS) -- Four years ago, the poorest owner in the NFL committed over $1.1 billion he didn’t have toward building a $1.9 billion stadium in Las Vegas, at a time when NFL policies forbid team owners, staffers and players from even appearing to have connections to gambling.
Three years ago, he lured the franchise’s famous former head coach out of the announcers’ booth and back onto his sideline with a 10-year, $100 million contract. At the end of the following season, he hired the NFL Network’s top draft analyst to run his front office. Last season, his team played their home games in the brand-new, gleaming black Allegiant Stadium — but without any fans (or gameday revenue to pay down the attendant debt).
Mark Davis bet everything — his team, his fortune, and his father’s legacy — on this season being a success.
It didn’t look like it was going to pay off. Head coach Jon Gruden’s first three seasons back in black (19-29, .396 win percentage) were significantly worse than the three years under his predecessor, Jack Del Rio (25-23, .521). General manager Mike Mayock’s transition from mock drafts to real drafts has been bumpy, with Gregg Rosenthal of the NFL Network ranking him and Gruden as the worst-drafting front office in the league. Team President Marc Badain, who had spent all 30 years of his professional career with the organization, resigned days before training camp with little explanation. Mayock admitted before this season that his job likely depended on the Raiders making the playoffs, and FiveThirtyEight’s preseason NFL predictions gave them just a 24 percent chance to do it.
After two weeks, the Las Vegas (née Oakland, née Los Angeles, née Oakland) Raiders are 2-0, having knocked off the Baltimore Ravens and Pittsburgh Steelers by a combined score of 59-44. Quarterback Derek Carr leads the NFL in passing yards with 817, nearly 130 yards ahead of second place. The team is No. 2 in the NFL in Sports-Reference.com’s predictive Simple Rating System metric.
Is this a mirage in the desert, or are the Raiders for real?
Right off the bat, there’s room for skepticism: Simple Rating System, predictive as it is, pretty much only takes into account a team’s opponents and average point differential. This early in the season, it’s not even as predictive as point spread or point differential alone.
On the field, the Raiders boast the No. 7 scoring offense and No. 1 yardage offense so far this year. They rank seventh in yards per play and are tied for fifth in per-drive scoring rate. Though they can’t run the ball for beans, Gruden’s play-calling is drawing raves — and has Carr playing the best football of his life. The three-time Pro Bowler has the fourth-highest quarterback passing grade on Pro Football Focus, and he ranks fourth in Football Outsiders’ Defense-adjusted Yards Above Replacement (DYAR). (Carr injured his ankle in last week’s win over the Steelers, though, and is currently questionable for Week 3.)
Defensively, the Raiders are closer to the middle of the pack. They are tied for 10th in scoring defense and 16th in yards allowed. They’re 16th in Football Outsiders’ defensive Defense-adjusted Value Over Average (DVOA). But PFF loves the tape of defensive coordinator Gus Bradley’s unit, grading them the sixth-best overall defense, with the league’s No. 1 pass rush.
That pass-rush dominance shows up in the stat column, too. Despite blitzing less often than any other team, the Raiders rank 15th in pressure rate, according to ESPN Stats & Information Group. Mayock’s first-ever draft pick — defensive end Clelin Ferrell, taken No. 4 overall in 2019 — may never be productive. But the edge-rusher Mayock took 102 picks later, Maxx Crosby, has blossomed into a stud: two sacks, eight tackles, three tackles for loss, and 10 quarterback hits season alone, not to mention the highest overall PFF grade of any defender in the league. Right behind Crosby, in ninth place, is 2021 free-agent class headliner Yannick Ngakoue.
The Raiders do have significant flaws. Their offensive line ranks dead last in PFF’s run-blocking grades and 16th in pass protection. They’re also the league’s worst tackling team, according to PFF. That’s partly why they’re only a decent defense, despite dominant players up front. All told, the Raiders are still outside of the top 10 in most predictive team-strength metrics.
But look how much these two opening wins have impressed the models:
Vegas has made huge leaps in the models
Rankings and playoff odds in five models for the Las Vegas Raiders before Week 1 and before Week 3 of the 2021 season
Football Outsiders DVOA
PFF Power Rankings
Before Week 1, the Raiders ranked no better than 21st in any of these five predictive team-strength metrics. After Week 2, they’re 12th in both FiveThirtyEight’s Elo projections and PFF’s Power Rankings and at least in the teens everywhere else.
Jeff Sagarin’s model doesn’t predict playoff odds, but the other four metrics do, and after playing two games, the Raiders’ chances of making the postseason have jumped from a range of 17 to 49 percent to 50 to 60 percent. According to Rotowire, the Raiders’ betting odds of making the playoffs are now at +100, with an implied probability of 47.8 percent. Even though those odds are much better than the preseason high of +340, every predictive model we looked at thinks the Raiders are more “for real” than betting markets do.
Is it really the right time to get on board the Raiders bandwagon? Maybe not. But many NFL observers were skeptical of Davis — who, to put it mildly, zigs where most NFL owners tend to zag — and his ability to get a new stadium built without another team involved. Or attract attention in attraction-saturated Las Vegas. Or bring Gruden back into the fold. Or build a roster without the help of longtime Raiders execs like Badain, former general manager Reggie McKenzie or former CEO Amy Trask.
Yet Vegas is the hottest ticket in football, Gruden is prowling the sidelines, and the Raiders have better-than-even odds to make their third trip to the playoffs since Gruden left 20 years ago.
Davis bet it all on (silver and) black, and he’s going to let it ride.
(NEW YORK) -- Here are the scores from Monday's sports events:
Baltimore 2, Philadelphia 0
Kansas City 7, Cleveland 2 -- Game 13
Detroit 4, Chicago White Sox 3
Kansas City 4, Cleveland 2 -- Game 14
NY Yankees 4, Texas 3
Tampa Bay 6, Toronto 4
Seattle 4, Oakland 2
Houston 10, LA Angels 0
Cincinnati 9, Pittsburgh 5
St. Louis 5, Milwaukee 2
Miami 8, Washington 7
Atlanta 11, Arizona 4
(NEW YORK) -- Here are the scores from Sunday's sports events:
Houston 7, Arizona 6
Detroit 2, Tampa Bay 0
Boston 8, Baltimore 6
Toronto 5, Minnesota 3
Cleveland 11, N.Y. Yankees 1
Seattle 7, Kansas City 1
Chicago White Sox 7, Texas 2
Oakland 3, L.A. Angels 2
Washington 3, Colorado 0
L.A. Dodgers 8, Cincinnati 5
Miami 6, Pittsburgh 5
St. Louis 8, San Diego 7
Chicago Cubs 6, Milwaukee 4
Atlanta 3, San Francisco 0
N.Y. Mets 3, Philadelphia 2
NATIONAL FOOTBALL LEAGUE
Buffalo 35, Miami 0
Carolina 26, New Orleans 7
Chicago 20, Cincinnati 17
Cleveland 31, Houston 21
Denver 23, Jacksonville 13
L.A. Rams 27, Indianapolis 24
Las Vegas 26, Pittsburgh 17
New England 25, NY Jets 6
San Francisco 17, Philadelphia 11
Arizona 34, Minnesota 33
Tampa Bay 48, Atlanta 25
Dallas 20, L.A. Chargers 17
Tennessee 33, Seattle 30 (OTT)
Baltimore 36, Kansas City 35
WOMEN'S NATIONAL BASKETBALL ASSOCIATION
Connecticut 84, Atlanta 64
Las Vegas 84, Phoenix 83
Minnesota 83, Washington 77
Dallas 87, Los Angeles 84
Chicago 98, Indiana 87
MAJOR LEAGUE SOCCER
CF Montral 2, Chicago 0
Philadelphia 3, Orlando City 1
Portland 2, Los Angeles FC 1
Vancouver 1, Colorado 1 (Tie)
(MIAMI) -- Miami Dolphins quarterback Tua Tagovailoa was carted off the field with a rib injury during Sunday's game against Buffalo.
During the second drive for Miami, Tagovailoa was hit by Bills defensive end AJ Epenesa on fourth down after an incomplete pass. The second-year quarterback walked off the field with trainers, before being carted to the locker room.
Jacoby Brissett took over for Tagovialoa.
Miami declared Tagovialoa as questionable to return.
The SEC admitted its referees made an error during Saturday night's Penn State-Auburn football game, which cost the Nittany Lions a down during the second quarter.
With 11:45 remaining in the second quarter, Penn State threw an incomplete pass that was flagged as an intentional grounding. When enforcing the penalty the referees "erroneously set the down to 3rd; the correct down should have been 2nd," according to a statement from the SEC after the game.
"The error was discovered during the media timeout that followed the punt and by rule it could not be corrected at that time," the statement said.
After the game, Penn State head coach James Franklin said he tried to get the referees to change the call on the field.
"They all agreed on the call, and so did the replay [official]," Franklin said. "They all agreed. I kept bringing them over and saying, 'It's not accurate.' I don't know what else I can tell them, but they all concurred, all the officials, they got on the headset, they talked to each other, and they all agreed. They ran it by replay, and they all agreed as well. I don't know what else I can do or say."
Penn State was leading Auburn 10-7 at the time of the error and would win 28-20 to move to 3-0 on the season.
(NEW YORK) -- One day after delivering bombshell testimony about the FBI's mishandling of the Larry Nasser sexual abuse scandal, Olympic gymnast Aly Raisman said she hopes her voice and the voices of fellow victims are finally heard.
"I hope that this is the day that somebody listens to us and somebody investigates what happened," Raisman, 27, said Thursday on Good Morning America. "Because we've been actually saying the same thing for years, but not much has happened."
Raisman joined fellow gymnasts Simone Biles, McKayla Maroney and Maggie Nichols in testifying Wednesday before the Senate Judiciary Committee, which is investigating the FBI's handling of the case against Nassar, a former USA Gymnastics team doctor.
Nassar was sentenced in 2018 to up to 175 years in prison after pleading guilty to sexually assaulting hundreds of girls and women.
"I really hope that people realize just how bad things are," Raisman said on GMA. "This is a really big coverup, and the fact that the FBI, USA Gymnastics and the United States Olympic & Paralympic Committee didn't think that this was important enough to handle it the right way is horrific."
Raisman continued, "Nasser was first reported decades ago and I ... should have never met him."
A Justice Department inspector general report released in July determined that the FBI made "fundamental errors" in its response to allegations against Nassar that were first brought to the agency in July 2015.
Raisman and her fellow gymnasts painted a portrait in their testimony of a system that failed them after they reported Nassar's abuse.
Raisman, for example, told senators that it took more than 14 months for the FBI to interview her. When she finally spoke with an agent, the agent "diminished the significance of my abuse and made me feel my criminal case wasn't worth pursuing," Raisman said.
Raisman later described the delay in investigating Nassar as "like serving innocent children up to a pedophile on a silver platter."
The gymnast said on GMA she hopes the senators who heard their stories take action.
"[The senators] seem to be validating, they seem to have been very supportive yesterday, and I hope they take that support and put it into action and actually do an investigation," said Raisman. "The people that wronged us need to be held accountable so that no child gets hurt."
"Some of those people who enabled us might still be in positions of power," she said, noting the investigation needs to look at the FBI as well as USA Gymnastics and the U.S. Olympic & Paralympic Committee. "We don't know because we don't have the answers yet."
In her testimony Wednesday, Raisman also described the ongoing mental health struggles she faces from both the sexual abuse and the unanswered questions surrounding the handling of Nassar's case.
She said on GMA that not only does she relive the abuse every time she speaks about it, but she also feels the responsibility of being a sexual abuse survivor with a large platform.
"I recognize that most survivors don't have the opportunity to come on Good Morning America," she said. "I'm very grateful that I do get to come on, but I take that responsibility very seriously."
"I think about the other survivors, the little boy, the little girl at home that is abused in their family and they are are told that their abuse doesn't matter, that they're making it up," Raisman said. "I am fighting for that person because I know that this is so much bigger than me."
(NEW YORK) -- Here are the scores from Wednesday's sports events:
MAJOR LEAGUE BASEBALL
Detroit 4, Milwaukee 1
Toronto 6, Tampa Bay 3
Boston 9, Seattle 4
NY Yankees 4, Baltimore 3
Cleveland 12, Minnesota 3
Houston 7, Texas 2
LA Angels 3, Chi White Sox 2
Oakland 12, Kansas City 10
Miami 8, Washington 6
Pittsburgh 5, Cincinnati 4
Philadelphia 6, Chi Cubs 5
St. Louis 11, NY Mets 4
Colorado 3, Atlanta 2
San Diego 9, San Francisco 6
LA Dodgers 5 Arizona 3
WOMEN'S NATIONAL BASKETBALL ASSOCIATION
Connecticut 98, New York 69
MAJOR LEAGUE SOCCER
Atlanta 4, Cincinnati 0
CF Montreal 4, Orlando City 2
DC United 3, Chicago 0
Sporting Kansas City 4, Minnesota 0
Los Angeles FC 2, Austin FC 1
Colorado 2, Portland 2 (Tie)
Houston 1, LA Galaxy 1 (Tie)
Real Salt Lake 4, San Jose 3
(NEW YORK) — When U.S. gymnasts Simone Biles, McKayla Maroney, Maggie Nichols and Aly Raisman testified before Congress Wednesday, they painted a portrait of a system that failed them when they reported sexual abuse allegations against Larry Nassar, a former USA Gymnastics team doctor.
The gymnasts also shared a vivid picture of what it is like to recover emotionally from sexual abuse, and described how the system's failures delayed their ongoing recovery.
"I personally don't think that people realize how much experiencing a type of abuse is not something that one just suffers in the moment," said Raisman, who testified against Nassar shortly before he was sentenced in 2018 to up to 175 years in prison for sexually assaulting hundreds of girls and women. "It carries on with them, sometimes for the rest of their lives."
Testifying before the Senate Judiciary Committee, which is investigating the FBI's handling of the Nassar allegations, Raisman continued, "For example, being here today is taking everything I have. My main concern is I hope I have the energy even to just walk out of here. I don't think people realize how much it affects us.”
Maroney, who testified Wednesday that the FBI delayed documenting her claims against Nassar and then made false claims, at one point apologized to the senators for not answering more questions, saying she was exhausted after sharing her experience with them.
When Biles, a seven-time Olympic medalist, began her testimony, she told the senators, "To be perfectly honest, I can imagine no place I'd be less comfortable right now than sitting here in front of you sharing these comments.”
Biles -- who paused several times in her testimony to hold back tears -- tied her performance at this summer's Tokyo Olympics to her struggle to recover mentally after being abused by Nassar. She dropped out of several competitions in Tokyo because of a mental health issue.
"As a recent competitor in the Tokyo Games who was a survivor of this horror, I can assure you the impacts of this man's abuse are not over or ever forgotten," Biles said. "The announcement in the spring of 2020 that the Tokyo Games were to be postponed for a year meant that I would be going to the gym, to training, to therapy, living daily among the reminders of this story for another 365 days.”
"As I have stated in the past, one thing that helped me push each and every day was the goal of not allowing this crisis to be ignored. I worked incredibly hard to make sure that my presence could maintain a connection between the failures and the competition at Tokyo 2020," she continued. "That has proven to be an exceptionally difficult burden for me to carry, particularly when required to travel to Tokyo without the support of any of my family."
Biles has also spoken previously about suffering from depression and having to take anxiety medication in the fallout of the Nassar abuse.
Raisman has said in the past that she suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder as a result of being sexually abused. In her testimony before Congress, she described exactly how that has impacted both her physical and emotional health.
"I used to train some days, seven hours a day when I was training for the Olympics, and processing my abuse affected me so much and it is still something I struggle with," she said. "When I first shared my story publicly ... I didn't even have the energy to stand up in the shower. I would have to sit on the floor and wash my hair because standing up was too exhausting for me."
"I couldn't even go for a 10-minute walk outside, and this is someone -- I've competed in two Olympic games," Raisman continued. "There are times where I feel like I forget what I'm saying. I feel like my mind isn't working. I feel like I have no energy at all. I'm 27 years old and my 80-year-old grandfather has more energy than I do.”
Raisman said she has had to be taken by ambulance for medical care after passing out because she is "so sick from just the trauma," noting that it can at times hit her, "out of the blue."
"I think it's important for people to understand how much -- even if we're not crying -- we are all struggling and how much survivors are suffering," Raisman said, adding that delivering her testimony on Wednesday may be something that will take her "months" from which to recover.
Surviving sexual abuse as a child or as an adult can have lasting mental health complications, experts say.
According to RAINN, the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network, around 70% of rape or sexual assault victims experience moderate to severe distress after the assault, which they say is a larger percentage than for any other violent crime.
Mental health complications from sexual assault may include everything from self-harm and eating disorders to panic attacks, depression, flashbacks, PTSD substance abuse and suicide, according to RAINN.
If you or someone you know is in need of help, the National Sexual Assault Hotline -- 800-656-HOPE -- is free, confidential and available 24 hours a day, seven days a week. You can also use the hotline's chat online option.
Cleveland Browns star wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. will be held out against Houston this week, head coach Kevin Stefanski announced Wednesday.
"[I] just felt like that was the right thing to do," he said. "Last week, I thought we had a good plan. He was close, working very hard on the side, but felt like it made more sense to have clarity early in the week from a game-planning [and] practice standpoint.
Stefanski said Beckham has not had a setback and will continue to practice this week on a limited basis.
Beckham has been recovering from knee surgery after he tore his left ACL last season.
He was a game-time decision for the team's week one game against Kansas City but was ruled inactive for the game.
"He was pushing to get there, just didn't feel like he could play a significant number of snaps," Stefanski said. "I just felt like this for this week, the prudent thing to do was let those other guys get all those reps, although they got a bunch last week and, let's game plan accordingly."