To BCS or Not To BCS? That is the Question.

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, I’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 haven’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 Outsider’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 we’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 it’s passing game more so than it’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 I’m sure most fans would agree on. Too many wasted possessions, too many three and outs, tons of turnovers. It’s something that ND will have to seriously improve upon if our expectation of a BCS game is to come true. Additionally, given Brian Kelly’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, BK’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 “traditional” 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, you‘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, it’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 won’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 won’t cut it in the fall.

To wrap this up, Notre Dame must improve in all facets of the game on offense  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!

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  • burger23

    Ahhh, beautiful charts and data…

    Excellent stuff. I think everyone would agree that the offense didn’t really “click” last year. It had its moments (MSU, BC, Miami, off and on vs. UM) but it didn’t really look like what Kelly had in Cincy.

    But I think the offense is due for a step forward next season. I can’t remember where I saw it, but I read an interview with Kelly where he said his first season involved a lot of yelling and repetition because he needed to install the new offense and defense. But now that the players know the systems, he can focus more on teaching and developing the players.

    Get excited. 2011 could be a special season.

  • OderName

    Fantastic analysis, Poot. The thing I would be interested in adding to these, though, is the average of the 6th through 10th ranked BCS teams. Here’s why: There are going to be 2 or 3 teams that are way better than anyone else on the field and in the stats, but we don’t really care about them. For now, all we’re trying to do is to get to ~ #10 in the BCS rankings to get a lock for a BCS game (yes, because we are ND).

    I’m guessing that the Minimum for each category was a bit of a outlier, but I would guess that to get to #10, at least if we’re going by stats, we probably only need to improve by about 7-10% across the board, rather than the 15% figure you give.

    Really looking forward to the defensive analysis. I know these take quite a bit of time you probably don’t have, so thanks. If it’s possible to include the 6-10 average, though, it would be cool to see. And while I’m wishfully thinking, it would be cool to break down 2010’s ND defense by pre-bye (Purdue-Tulsa) and post-bye (Utah-Miami). And then, while I’m still dreaming, the offensive numbs would be cool to break down by Crist games & Rees games (including Tulsa).

    Anyway, thanks for the analysis!

    •!/PootND PootND

      Yeah, the min was usually an outlier (i.e. the passing O of GT, or the rushing O of Hawaii) That’s why I tried to grab 7 years of data and compared against the mean. I felt 70 teams gave me a good dataset that also reflected modern trends (rise of the spread)

      Though, with the min as an outlier, it pulls down the average and excluding them from the data would only “increase” the mean that we’d have reach to be considered BCS caliber

      • OderName

        The Minimum is an outlier, but I also think that the top 2-3 can be eliminated from the average, too, because we don’t have to be tops, just get to # 9 or 10 to get a bid. It would be interesting to see the average of something like 4-8 or 3-9 or even 5-9 to give us a better idea of the target to just get a bid.

        Still, I love the post – thank you!

  • The Biscuit

    Agree Burg. The fits and starts are to be expected, especially in a brand new scheme that depends so much on precision. We just didn’t have it last year. Like you said, we’d see it for a quarter, maybe a half, then we’d go BLAH and go 3-n-out 4 times in a row. I expect those periods to be less frequent this year.

  • JDriveSthND

    One Editorial Comment the Defensive Coordinator for the 2006 season was RICK Minter, not ROB Minter.

    • mayo1010

      As long as your correcting. He wrote Ron Minter not ROB. But you are correct on Rick Minter.

      •!/PootND PootND

        Thanks guys. I fixed it

  • Erik ’04

    I was probably more surprised than I should have been that in every single statistical category the 2010 Irish was better than the worst team of the TOP 10 some year. I realize that a team could be low in one category but high in others and therefore highly ranked, but for as many shortfalls as the team had we weren’t that far away from being a solid team. Our guy doesn’t fall down in OT against MSU and BK kicks the field goal against Tulsa and it’s a different season. Throw in Crist playing the whole game against Michigan and you’re left with a butt kicking by Stanford and a befuzzled defensive coordinator against Navy. Still not a BCS team, but 10-2 looks a lot different on paper than 7-5.

  • Erik ’04

    When I read the headline to your post, I thought it was going to be about the relative merits of going 10-2 and being slaughtered in a BCS game verses going 9-3 and winning the Champs Sports Bowl, like perhaps it is better not to go to the BCS this year or something.

    • OderName

      Yeah, me too, but I still liked the post a lot.

      • Erik ’04

        Oh yeah, definitely. I forgot to mention that!

    • E-Man

      That would be an interesting post. I think as a team you would want to go to a BCS bowl, the potential for an LSU-scale slaughter or not.

      Success in a more minor bowl after last year is like winning the NIT two years in a row. Sure, it’s nice for the program, but progress upward is expected.

      • Erik ’04

        Good points, E-Man. I go back and forth on it. I certainly want us to be deserving of a BCS bowl and go in there with a shot to win it. However, if that doesn’t happen I think there is room for upward progress from last year to this year that still results in winning the Champs Sports Bowl and continuing the momentum into a legitimate BCS caliber run next year. Contrast that with an overrated ND team being gifted a BCS game and getting blown out, and how that could hurt any momentum we were building. I think ultimately I’d prefer the BCS game, but I can see it both ways.

  • Jeremy

    Interesting post. Considering we had two QBs to break in for half a season each last year, you would think we could get a 15% jump in offensive production this year, but I think our offense could still gives us a lot of fits early on for the same reason. Neither Crist nor Rees has a full year under their belt, and the fact that Kelly is not comfortable naming a starter indicates one of them has not stood out yet. It would be nice to think that is because they will both excel, but it more likely means that both struggle with consistency. That could make for a slow start this fall and a more inefficient September. Of course, our defense could just carry us through all those games, but if the offense isn’t running pretty well from the start, I don’t think we’ll be seeing a BCS game this year.

  • Geoffrey ’73

    Good to omit time of possession. It is really a reflection the other data. In other words, after you win, you likely had the ball longer. If you go for TOP rather than points and yards, you are not increasing your chances of beating your opponent.

  • GB

    I do not see Kelly naming a starter for QB yet. I think the main reason is that Kelly wants some competition between Christ and Rees so they cannot rest until a week or two before the start of the season. I do not see anyone starting besides Christ unless there is an injury. Ress may be scrappy but Christ is simply better.

    • Nate

      With Christ as QB, we’d go undefeated.

      Unfortunately, He’s not an option, so we’ll have to choose between Crist and Rees.

      • GB


        You got me. Amen.

  • Trevor

    I think expectations for ND are way to high this year. I don’t believe they will lose less than 3 games. I’m very excited for the defense but personally believe the offense will falter and will be the weak link of team.


    • E-Man

      I’m with Trevor mostly. I’m not as optimistic about the performance of the offense even after year 1 under their belt. Doubly so if Kelly is going to do his own thing and sub short passes for runs.

      I also spend my weekends yelling at the neighborhood kids to get off my lawn, and calling the cops on your house parties.

      •!/PootND PootND

        While I understand why you wouldn’t be as optimistic about the offense, why would you be doubly as pessimistic because Kelly subs short passes for runs?

        • E-Man

          I don’t have the data to back me up just going on a qualatative perception by me, but my general sense last year and in previous years there were more short passes utilized in lieu of runs. Against teams that ND had superior talent (i.e. no one to match up against Tate/Roddick-ish players on the slip screens or shovel passes, it was okay, but not nearly as effective against teams with comprable talent (think USC, Stanford last year). When Kelly started utilizing more running plays in lieu of the short pass in the second half of the season last year, the offense appeared to be more consistent, I believed to perform better.

          Seriously, has ND been able to consistently run screens since 2005 against the upper level of their schedule? There’s been big ones here and there since then, but nothing like the level of execution and result seen in 2005.

          Maybe you have the information to totally refute my belief, but as the dude holding down the couch on Saturdays, that is my sense of things.

  • Andy C

    All these new fangled stats are total hokey. Run the ball. We run the ball, we will win games, and lots of ’em. It’s that simple. Run, win. Pass, Lose. LOUHOLTZFOREVAH!

    • burger23

      I wonder if there’s a correlation between number of fullbacks used per play and wins? Wait, you don’t have to tell me. Of course there is. Power running is the only way to win.