After the strong end to last season on the field coupled with he strong numbers of returning players and the outstanding recruiting class of 2011, plenty of Notre Dame fans are excited about the upcoming season. Perusing the variety of blogs, message boards, and twitter, Iâ€™ve seen plenty of fans hoping (and some expecting/demanding) a BCS game from the Irish. As we all know, Notre Dame has never won a BCS game and we havenâ€™t even been to a BCS game since Rick Minter and the Irish D help Jamarcus Russell earn $40 million dollars in the disastrous Sugar Bowl after the 2006 season.
With that in mind, I decided to look back and see what type of offense and defense Notre Dame will have to field for us to hope for a BCS game appearance at the end of the 2011 season.. I started with the Top 10 teams in the BCS rankings from the week before the bowl games from 2005 through 2010. I used the week before the bowl games as that is the rankings used to select the BCS game participants. I decided to look at advanced stats (Football Outsiders FEI & S&P+) and more common stats (Passing YPA, Rushing YPA, Points Per Game, etc.) Given the numerous amounts of data, I decided to take the minimum, the maximum, the mean, and the median for all the of the data sets. I also added in 2010 Irish to see how we stacked up last year and the area we will need to improve.
The first group of statistics I looked at were Football Outsiderâ€™s S&P+. As always, all explanations and definitions of the stats can be found at FootballOutsiders (Link)
For quick reference:
O S&P+:Total Offense S&P+
Rush O S&P+: S&P+ on Rushing Plays Only
Pass O S&P+: S&P+ on Passing Plays Only
Std Down O S&P+: S&P+ on what FO considers Standard Downs
Pass Down O S&P+: S&P+ on passing downs (2nd and 8+, 3rd and 5+)
An S&P+ of 100 is an average performance and S&P+ is weighted so that a S&P+ of 110 is 10% better than average.
Part 1 – Offense
The top 5 offenses over the period were 2010 Auburn (They represent the top team in 4 of the 5 stats), 2008 Oklahoma (the best Passing O), 2008 Florida, 2005 Texas and 2005 USC. All teams that most would consider some of the best offenses weâ€™ve seen in awhile. They all also played for the national title during those seasons. But since we are looking reaching any BCS game this year, we want to focus on the mean/median offensives performances as those are the better barometers of how ND has to perform in the upcoming season.
Looking at the 2010 Notre Dame offense versus the mean performance from the past 6 seasons, we can see that we need an improvement of around 15% across the board to have a BCS-caliber offense. To the possible surprise of many of you, ND will need to improve itâ€™s passing game more so than itâ€™s rushing game.
Overall, the biggest improvement needed will be execution on passing downs. ND was barely average last year. Most BCS teams actually performed better on passing downs than on standard downs. Performing better on 2nd & long or 3rd down keeps the chains moving and keeps your offense on the field. As we all remember from last year, there were way too many 3 and outs (see chart below)
The other set of stats from Football Outsiders is FEI (Fremeau Efficiency Index). The definiton of FEI, OFEI, etc can also be found on Football Outsiders (link) Essentially, FEI measures how efficient your team performs over the course of the season. (One note on the FEI, Football Outsiders only has FEI calculated back to 2007 so this includes only 2007-2010)
Notre Dame was not efficient on offense during 2010. Something Iâ€™m sure most fans would agree on. Too many wasted possessions, too many three and outs, tons of turnovers. Itâ€™s something that ND will have to seriously improve upon if our expectation of a BCS game is to come true. Additionally, given Brian Kellyâ€™s lack of concern regarding Time of Possession, being an efficient offense is essential for success. When he took Cincinatti to a BCS game in 2009, BKâ€™s offense has an OFEI of .547, which is clearly above the BCS average and was the 4th ranked OFEI for all teams during 2009. Hope Abounds!
And if you are a philistine who prefers more â€œtraditionalâ€ stats, then do I have charts for you!
As with the Football Outsiders stats above, the 2010 Notre Dame offense was below the average of BCS caliber offenses across the board. Additionally, the passing numbers were also worse by comparison.
One little tidbit from this chart, the team with the highest Passing YPA? 2009 Georgia Tech! Granted, they only threw the ball 168 time the entire season but when they did, man did it work well.
Now if we bring in a chart that compares yards per game, the issues with the Notre Dame offense seems to flip.
If you compare this chart to the one above, youâ€˜ll notice that how Notre Dame went from below the BCS average in Passing YPA to above average in Passing YPG. So, while the counting stat (YPG) looks good, ND was not efficient in obtaining those yards. It took us more passing attempts to inflate our total passing yards and thus increase our passing yards per game.
On the other hand, looking at our rushing yards on a per game basis makes them look even worse. There are several possible explanations why this occurs. The most likely reason, in my opinion, is the type of offense Brian Kelly runs. The slip screens, middle screen, and shovel passes that will be counted as passes are extensions of the running game to Kelly. While this belief causes many ND fans to whine and moan, itâ€™s true. Disagree in the comments, yell to your followers on twitter, post threads on NDNation or ISD about how much this annoys you, it wonâ€™t change what will happen on the field in September. Brian Kelly will still call the offense the way he’s always done it. We can hope he follows the script from the last 4 games and the rushing game performs as well as it did over that span. That said, ND absolutely must improve the running game in 2011. If they want to go to a BCS game the 3.98 YPC wonâ€™t cut it in the fall.
To wrap this up, Notre Dame must improve in all facets of the game on offense Â if our hopes of a BCS appearance in January of 2012 are to come true.
Stay tuned for part 2 regarding the defense which should appear sometime after July 4th and before Labor Day!