Phil Steele and Vegas Preview the Irish

Over the weekend, Phil Steele’s annual college football preview magazine landed in my mailbox. Yesterday, the Golden Nugget released the first large batch of college football betting lines.

This means only one thing: the long offseason is drawing ever so nearer to its end–just 11 more Saturdays of non-football left.

Now that these two treasure troves of information are available, it’s time to take a dive into this wealth of information and see what is in store for Notre Dame’s 2012 season.

Phil Steele

Phil Steele – Notre Dame Forecast
Projected Rank 21
Record “Most wins since 2006″
Strength of Schedule 1
Bowl Game Belk Bowl (formerly Meineke Car Care Bowl)
Bowl Opponent Georgia Tech (Projected Rank: 39)

Steele’s rank of 21 places the Irish one spot ahead of Michigan. While he sees this as the best season since 2006, he doesn’t outright say the Irish will hit double digits in wins as he has in the past. The schedule, a topic that was rather hotly contested at HLS (even Fr. Sorin got involved), is cited as the main reason why Steele projects the Irish in this fashion. Reading between the lines, it appears that Steele sees this as a likely 9 win season as he doesn’t project the Irish making the BCS.

Despite the difficult schedule, Steele is still very high on the Irish–just take a look at his rankings for individual units:

Individual Unit Rank
Quarterbacks Not Ranked
Running Backs 17
Receivers (includes TEs) 16
Offensive Line 11
Defensive Line 22
Linebackers 8
Defensive Backs Not Ranked
Special Teams 28

For those keeping score, that totals six of the eight total individual units ranked in Steele’s top 30. Further, Steele notes that teams with a turnover ratio of -10 or worse, like the Irish (-15), have had the same or stronger records 81% of the time since 1996.

Another interesting trend comes from Irish head coach, Brian Kelly. Kelly is the only coach in college football that exceeded Steele’s projections six years in a row–a streak that was snapped when he took over for ND in 2010.

And just who does Steele see leading the Irish in this campaign? Andrew Hendrix, backed up by Everett Golson with Tommy Rees as the third string. Grantland-X, I’m sure, will take great issue with this decision while the rest of us jump for joy.

The only other depth chart projection of note is that fair-catch specialist, John Goodman, is not one of Steele’s three starting wide receivers. Steele’s starting three WR are Robby Toma, DaVaris Daniels, and T.J. Jones. I’m not sure this projection will completely pan out, as I have a feeling Goodman will at least start over Daniels, but Daniels will still see a fair amount of playtime, possibly taking over by season’s end.

Overall, I find myself mostly in agreement with Steele’s projections. Personally though, it does seem that Steele wants to believe the Irish could pull of a double-digit win season; however, after being burned by Kelly before and what he sees as the toughest schedule in football, he has forced himself to temper such a bold prediction.

Vegas

Opponent Line*
Navy^ -13.5
Purdue No Line
Michigan State +3
Michigan -1
Miami^ -9.5
Stanford -5
BYU -9
@ Oklahoma +11
Pittsburgh -12.5
@ Boston College -12
@ Wake Forest No Line
@ USC +13

*All lines are given relative to ND (e.g. -7, ND favored by 7 & +7, ND is a 7 point dog)
^ Neutral Site

If we were to go purely by these lines, Notre Dame would end up 9-3, as Phil Steele insinuates. However, when it comes to Vegas, all ND lines should be taken with a grain of salt.

While I do think the Vegas handicappers can be scarily accurate, it should be noted that all sports books handicap with one ultimate goal in mind: make sure the house wins. This means that once money starts flying in, the lines will adjust accordingly (in fact, I wouldn’t be surprised if the above lines have already changed). For instance, should a lot of bets be placed on Michigan +1, you would soon see Michigan become the favorite over Notre Dame. This isn’t so much a reflection on ND or Michigan, but rather the house trying to shift the odds back in their favor to prevent a huge loss.

Keeping this in mind, it should be noted that Notre Dame lines often suffer from a “homer” and/or “dumb money” effect. ND has a large fan base and it is only human nature for the majority of fans to bet with, not against, their teams. Additionally, Notre Dame is a team commonly associated with football success by a fringe college football fan/bettor, leading to bets on the Irish simply for the name recognition. Notre Dame is far from the only team to have such bets affect their lines, but, personally, I’ve found the effect more pronounced than many other teams.

I think many of the spreads above are far too high in ND’s favor (Miami, BYU, and BC in particular). The Michigan State cushion is rather generous as well and I don’t see anyway the season opens with Michigan as a dog to the Irish.

While the actual record for ND may very well be reflected in these lines, don’t let them lull you into a false sense of security for games in which ND is heavily favored. I may not think the schedule will end up being the toughest in the nation, but the Vegas lines definitely chart an easier course than even I believe the season will take.

  • GB

    All the positions are listed except for safety. Does he just leave them out or does he consider safeties as DBs? Does he also consder TE as OL? I would presume since he named the 3 WRs. It seems like this season depends mostly on QB play and turnovers. It would be very hard for me to make a decision since I thought ND would do better every year since 2006 but underperformed every year. I hope that changes this year.

    • NDtex

      Typo on my end “Cornerbacks” should be “Defensive Backs”–I will correct that now, thanks. Steele considers TEs part of the receiving corps, not the O-line. I will clarify that as well.

      Thanks (I need to stop writing so late at night!)

  • https://twitter.com/#!/GrantlandX Grantland-X

    Solid work Tex, I am also a huge fan of Phil Steele’s magazine each year.

    First, to counter your jab at me, Steele also ranks Tommy Rees as the 55th overall quarterback in the country…no other Notre Dame QBs crack the list. And you can’t say that that is purely because he hasn’t seen the other guys play enough to project them, because he has Bennett Jackson as the #34 overall CB in the country, despite the fact that he was only on the field for a handful of plays outside of special teams. But it is kind of odd that he thinks Rees is the best QB on the roster, but won’t start.

    As for the gambling odds, people tend to overstate the favoritism of oddsmakers toward teams with huge fanbases. Absolutely, the lines get shifted slightly to create a value gap, but it really is a small shift. I know ESPN’s Chad Millman blogs about the true power of teams vs the betting value they are given, and has a formula that shows how many points the lines get shifted by. The absolute most a line ever gets overrated by due to fanbases is 3 points, and is incredibly rare. Most of the time it’s about a 1 point difference, which wouldn’t really change the expected outcomes of this season’s games (except Michigan would now be even odds. Although UM has a similarly sized fanbase, so maybe that one wouldn’t shift)

    • NDtex

      Steele also only ranked players that are draft eligible this season. I didn’t include player rankings for that very reason as there is too much left out for potential standout Freshmen and Sophomores.

      Regarding QBs, only 60 were listed…and again, that’s only 60 draft eligible. Not exactly a big pond for that little fish to have his name pop in. Furthermore, still outright stated in his intro that, not only was he listing draft eligible only, he was basically making his player ranking list his draft projections. It is beyond rare for a first year starting QB to make anyone’s draft board with just one year under center–other skill positions have quite a bit more tolerance.

      While I agree Vegas lines rarely have seismic shifts, that it is because lines already start out with the fanbase expectations that I state above. For most fanbases, the 3-point shift is likely true, but ND definitely an exception. Their games are notoriously hard to handicap.

  • https://twitter.com/#!/GrantlandX Grantland-X

    Eager me skipped right to the rankings…ill admit, missed the draft eligible part altogether…so ill prepare to get flamed for that. But, to be fair. Hendrix is also draft eligible, he was part of the same class as Rees, just with a redshirt under his belt.

    • NDtex

      I missed it too at first and had to re-read.

      I’m aware Hendrix is draft eligible, but I am figuring Steele just doesn’t think he will rate on a draft board. Either way, his individual rankings are a bit harder to analyze this time with the draft wrinkle.

  • trey

    Yeah, Pitt and Miami are both sucker bets.

    • NDtex

      I can’t get a read on Pitt. They have all the potential to be a major dumpster fire, so the initial line may actually be a solid bet.

      Of course, they could completely turn it around or we can pull a repeat of last season.

      I’d file that in a “wait and see column”.

      • trey

        I dont know that ND wins that by two TD tho.

  • http://ndeddiemac.tumblr.com NDEddieMac

    The Michigan line completely surprises me, I’m with you Tex in thinking there’s no way come kickoff that ND stays favored in that one. As for Phil Steele, his magazine is an absolute God-send, though the last few years he’s been incredibly high on ND and…well…we’ve seen how that’s turned out. I’m not surprised he has us ranked so high with the emphasis he places on regression to the mean w/r/t turnover margins. Damn that Pitt line is huge.

    • Brian

      Phil Steele’s been high on the Irish the last few years because we should have been crushing opponents. The only two teams that truly earned wins against ND last season were Southern Cal and Stanford. …and even the USC game could have gone the other way. I’m standing by my prediction for double-digit wins this year.
      Steele’s ranking of our d-line is too low. Even without Lynch, our d-line is going to be incredible.

  • fossilman

    ND will for sure be favored going into the Michigan game. Michigan opens with Alabama and are going to get crushed. I know they won alot of game last year but I believe that they way over acheived last year. I think it’s going to be a long seasons for the boys from Michigan. Stanford too!

  • irishfanatic

    I love this stuff Tex, thank you for putting in the work on it. I think this information gives us a lot to be happy about, and a lot to question. Which, by the way, is how most of us have been feeling for the past few months. Personally, I can’t wait to get this season underway. Between our great offensive line, awesome front seven, our excellent running back stable and receiving corp, we have a lot to look forward to. Of course, there’s still that big question mark on who will guide this team on offense, but I’m putting my faith in Coach Kelly, and I believe we’ll have the right guy there in Dublin. Hey, and worst case scenario gents, we know full well he’ll pull his choice if he wasn’t the right one!

    Eighty days away! GO IRISH!!