Michigan Plays for the Win

Michigan nearly pulled off an upset with huge BCS implications this afternoon, falling just short against the Buckeyes. The Wolverines had scored a touchdown with 30 seconds to go in regulation, and could have tied the game with an extra point. Michigan instead chose to play for the win by going for two. According to a Michigan tweet:
Taylor Lewan, on the two point attempt, "Coach Hoke asked us seniors, do you want to go for it, we all said yes."
And though the two point conversion attempt failed, their seniors still made the right call. Michigan was a 15.5 point underdog at home against Ohio State. As I pointed out in last week's post, underdogs fare poorly in overtime. There have been 92 college football games in which a 10 point or more underdog has gone to overtime. They have won just 35% of those contests. The results are consistent across other sports.

I believe 2 point conversion attempts succeed a little less than 50% of the time (I could not track down hard numbers on this for college football). So let's say that the chance of success is 45%. Here is Michigan's win probability* for both strategies:

  • Go For 2: 45%
  • Play for Overtime: 35%

And the 35% is probably a bit high since it includes underdogs of 10 points or more. For underdogs greater than 15 points, those teams have won 32% of overtime games. So, unless Coach Hoke thought his team had less than a ~33% chance of making that two point conversion, going for two was the smart call.

* Note that I am ignoring the possibility of the Buckeyes driving for a quick score in the last 30 seconds of regulation. But even if that had a 10% likelihood (which seems high), that would take the 45% down to 40%, which is still better than 35%. And that assumes that they would not try to score if the game was tied.
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