I’ve spent a little time digging into ND starters vs. starters for Top 10 teams and for our opponents in 2008.Â Â I know there’s a lot of debate out there about how much Youth plays a role in this team’s success (or relative lack thereof).Â While I think that Youth is a big factor (still), I agree with the folks that say it’s not an excuse.Â If a team can get up by 2 TD’s, it should be able to finish withÂ a win.Â It clearly demonstrated the ability to beat an opponent for a half, so why can’t it do so for a full game?Â So I don’t think the team’s relative youth, is an excuse, but I do think it’s helpful to understand just how young this team is.Â Still.
Dude, that is disturbing!Â I don’t care if they’re made out of cake.
So I ran some numbers based on the latest starting lineups provided by Rivals’ College Player Database.Â It’s a pretty solid product, although downloading data takes for-freaking-ever because it all has to be manual.Â But nowhere else could I find a consistent listing of starters, along with their year and number of varsity letters.Â Â In this post, I’m sticking to Offense.Â BK will mock me for it (mostly because he mocks me for everything, and because he thinks FNL recaps are more interesting than ND-relevant content on a ND site), but I’m doing a 3-part series here – Offense, Defense, Total.
Using the two inputs I mentioned above, I developed three metrics for Youth – first, the % underclassmen that start and the number of months in the program.Â This is pretty obvious in that more frosh/sophomores = younger and more frosh/sophomores = fewer months in the program.Â But the two measures provide a bit of detail that I found interesting.Â % underclassmen really gets to the heart of the youth of the starters, and looking at average months in the program gives a feel for how much time the team has, in general, had to develop.Â To learn the system, to lift in a college weight program, to adjust to school and the speed of the college game, etc.Â The second input allowed me to get to average number of varsity letters, which helps get to actual experience.Â
I am of the opinion that a bunch of 3 star 5th years will almost always beat a bunch of 5 star freshmen.Â Of course there are exceptions (this year’s Florida team) and a host of other things play in – schedule, leadership, where the veterans play, etc. but in general, I think that it takes Talent + Age + Experience to win consistently.Â It’s tough to win with talented young guys that have never played.Â It’s tough to win with untalented older guys that have played, etc etc.Â The combination of the three is the sweet spot, and the road to success.Â Anyway, the results, comparing ND to the Top 10 (from 2 weeks back) and to our 2008 schedule (minus SDSU, for whom there was no data available).
First, some basic rankings:
% Underclassmen that Start on Offense
|Top 10Â & ND|
So what’s clear is that ND started as many or more Frosh/Sophomores on Offense as anyone else either in the Top 10 or on our schedule.Â Of course, this doesn’t easily correlate with success – you can look to Florida as the (lone) example of a very young team at the heights of success with a prolific offense, and Purdue as a veteran team that shite in their collective bed.Â Purdue’s inherent boringness, lame duck coach and QB that fell apart clearly had an impact here.Â Â Either way, ND had an extremely young offense, with 6 of 11 starters in their first 2 years in the program.Â I’d love to go back historically, but my guess is that this is one of the highest ratios you’d ever see at Notre Dame.Â Ever.
Also, it’s important to point out that almost all of ND’s experienced upperclassmen come on the OL (exceptions are Grimes and Schwapp),Â the mostÂ under-performing group on the team.Â Â It’s obvious that Youth isn’t even a factor here, and points even more glaringly to some mis-management from a coaching or scheme perspective.Â
Months in the Program
|Top 10 & ND|
These two measures look pretty similar, but I include it because the averages cover across all 4-5 years.Â Once again, ND falls to the bottom of both lists.Â What I find really interesting is that on AVERAGE, the ND offense has less than 2 years in the program.Â 1 year and 10 months, across all 4 years isn’t much time to get into any system, let alone Charlie’s, and to get used to the game, and to get stronger and faster.Â Â I think it’s also pretty interesting to compare the most experienced offenses to ours.Â Penn State averaged 36 months, and Navy 36 months, to our 22.Â So, on average, each player in those programs has another 14 months in a college program compared to ours.Â That’s a full year of growth and development, lifting and running and learning.Â And collectively?Â Sheesh.Â 14X11 = 154 / 12 = 13 YEARS more experience in their starting lineup compared to ours.Â
Average Varsity Letters Earned
|Top 10 & ND|
And, once again, ND is the youngest.Â In addition to having the most underclassmen starting, and the fewest months in the program for players to develop, ND has the least amount of on-field experience.Â Oklahoma’s staring offense AVERAGES almost 3 Letters, while ND just scrapes above 1.Â Â So that’s a solid 33 Letters among OK’s offense, vs ND’s 13.Â 20 additional letters is a huge difference.Â
So the data is pretty clear:Â ND’s offense remains super-young.Â This isn’t an excuse, it’s a fact.Â Clearly, success can be had with a young offense (particularly when that offense has a strong identity, veteran leaders at key positions, and is coupled with a solid, experienced defense, but that’s another post).Â Florida proves this.Â But ND’s offense is clearly very young, and therefore appears to have a ton of upside.Â We saw a ton of inconsistency this year, and a lot of mistakes that doomed the team.Â But we also did see some offensive production, and at times the O looked down-right good.Â What will happen when this team looks like Oklahoma in terms of experience?Â I have to believe it will look good, really good.Â
So why so many rough performances this year?Â How could USC happen?
The defensive comparisons will come in part II of the Manifesto, but there are some glaring matchups that beg to be explored.
Check out the D’s against whom our very-young offense really struggled:
USC:Â Â 9% of starters on their defense are underclassmen (1 guy), they average 36 months in the program compared to ND’s offensive starters at 22, and they average 2.5 letters on Defense.Â That’s the highest among Top 10 Team Defenses, and the highest among ND opponents.
BC:Â 9% of their Defensive Starters are underclassmen (1 dude), they average 32 months in the program, and 2.4 letters.Â BC’s defense is older, more developed, and has more in-game experience than every team in the Top 10 except PSU and USC.Â
Those are the two where our offense looked truly anemic.Â I’ll take a team of 22 year olds against a team of 18 and 19 year olds any day, and that’s essentially what we saw here.Â Against BC, it was 4 stars vs. 3 stars, and against USC 4 stars vs 4-5 stars in terms of talent, but in both the much more experienced D won out easily.Â Â Â There are games where our offense was playing against a D of similar Youth and didnt win out (UNC in particular), but at the least ND moved the ball in those games, and often killed themselves with turnovers and costly mental mistakes.Â
I have to think that Youth is a big issue for this team, and especially the Defense.Â Yes, coaching is an issue.Â Fundamentals.Â Attitude.Â All those things play in.Â But with a veteran Offense in 2 years that looks like Oklahoma, and assuming no other changes, I think you see 2-4 more wins this year.Â
What do you think?Â Does it matter?Â Is it a ‘tired’ excuse?Â Is this entire post worthless?Â (Dont answer that BK.)