Story Poster
Photo by Darren Yamashita-USA TODAY Sports
Notre Dame Football

6 Thoughts on a Thursday

May 26, 2022

Analytics are great in sports…unless they don’t say good things about your team. Then they are bad. What’s the point of them? Those computer boys need to stop punching in numbers and actually watch some film!

Woo, my bad. I blacked out for a second thinking of all the ways fans react to analytics that don’t match up with what their eyes are telling them.

I love numbers. Not nearly as much as the people who are the best at crunching them for college football, but I love looking at what the numbers tell us about Notre Dame football and meshing that with my background playing and coaching. Even when the numbers appear off to me based on what I see with my own eyes, I still appreciate the value they bring.

So even though I sometimes look at ESPN Bill Connelly’s pre-season projections and might scratch my head, especially when it has to come projecting Notre Dame in recent years, I appreciate how lucky we are to have his projections along with Brian Fremeau’s FEI ratings that often differ greatly from pre-season media rankings.

Connelly just released his updated SP+ projections earlier this week and Notre Dame came in at seventh, right behind Clemson at six. The better way to look at it in my opinion is that he has Ohio State, Alabama, and Georgia as the top-three and they are a cut above everyone else. The Irish are in the group that is close together with Michigan, Oklahoma, Clemson, Texas A&M, Tennessee, and Wisconsin.

I know that group isn’t the one Notre Dame fans want to be lumped in with, but I’d call it the potential CFP contender group and to me that fits where this year’s squad for Notre Dame projects to be. (I don’t know if Tennessee or Wisconsin deserve to be there, but I guess we’ll just have to see how that plays out for those programs this fall.)

I always like looking at the SP+ projections to see where Notre Dame’s opponents rank. Unsurprisingly, Ohio State (1) and Clemson (6) are at the top of list for the most difficult matchups the Irish will have. It dips quite a bit after that, though.

BYU is 25th. With 85% of their production returning this season and an offense that finished 7th in F+, the Cougars are going to be pretty good. But from there it’s UNC at 34th and then no one else in the top-50.

USC and their top-5 media hype are 51st. Are the Trojans actually going to finish 51st? Not likely and Connelly admitted that with so many transfers and a brand new coaching staff, they are basically unprojectable. It’s not hard to see that they currently aren’t anywhere close to the top tiers, though.

After that it’s Syracuse (57th), Marshall (63rd), Cal (74th), Boston College (76th), Stanford (77th), UNLV (110th), and Navy (113th).

Brian Kelly won at least 10 games in each of the last five seasons because he consistently beat the teams he was supposed to beat. If Marcus Freeman does the same, then he should end up with double digits wins in his first season based on these projections.

Of course there is variance and other factors that can change things, including him being a new head coach with so many new staff members, but no one can say that things aren’t set up pretty well for the Irish outside of the obvious two monster games (one of which is projected as a toss up at the moment).

As Matt Freeman mentioned on Power Hour this week, things can change drastically with how we see these teams based on one or two key injuries. Things can also swing in the other direction when someone who isn’t seen as a big contributor emerges into a star. There is no other sport where that can happen quite like college football.

Looking at these projections should make Notre Dame fans feel pretty optimistic about the type of year the team can have. Concerns may pop up at some point, but things are set up well for another good season that can also help maintain the momentum they have on the recruiting trail.

2. What an absolutely impossible task to have to try and figure out the returning production of all of these teams with more and more programs dipping heavily into the transfer portal. I have no idea how Connelly does it, but he updated that as well with the Irish 54th.

BYU is second, Stanford is fifth, and Syracuse is ninth.

Think about how wild it is that Stanford has 83% of their production returning and they barely crack the top-80 in SP+ projections. If someone had told you that five years ago, you wouldn’t believe it.

If David Shaw can’t get Stanford back to being respectable with so many players coming back, then I doubt it’s ever going to happen for Stanford again while Shaw is in charge. It’s going to be very interesting to see how they look before they travel to South Bend in October.

3. There is no argument for USC being better than Notre Dame during the Kelly era. The Irish were the clearly superior program.

He went 8-3 against them. From 2010 to 2021, the Irish had 7 seasons of 10-wins or more compared to only four for USC. Other than a two season run with Sam Darnold at quarterback, USC never even really came close to matching Notre Dame over that time period when it comes to wins and losses.

The amazing part about the past dozen seasons is that USC recruited talent at a level that should have seen the records flipped. I know everyone thinks it was just them signing top skill talent, but from 2010 to 2018 they signed 30 top-100 prospects on defense. Notre Dame signed 11.

The Irish simply outclassed them when it came to development and coaching. Only 11 of those 30 recruits ended up becoming NFL Draft picks for USC. Overall, the Trojans had 18 defenders taken from those classes. Notre Dame had 17 despite not landing anywhere close to the same amount of highly rated prospects.

Seeing those numbers is kind of crazy because if USC can recruit close to the level they did with what should be a better coaching staff, the hit rate on those prospects should be significantly higher. I think there is a decent chance of that happening whether it’s with Alex Grinch at defensive coordinator or whoever the next guy is for Lincoln Riley at USC.

Throw that on the pile as another reason why the coaching change at Notre Dame has been refreshing because I don’t think Kelly level recruiting was going to be sustainable if they want to continue to have the upper hand in their rivalry with USC.

4. I joked about USC putting together a great 7 on 7 team with what they’ve added in the transfer portal this off-season and if you throw in who they have committed this cycle, they probably could have a 7on dynasty in the works if a league was actually a thing.

Sometimes I wonder if it could be a thing. Not that it would be a replacement for real football in the fall or anything that lasted for months like the actual season, but in an effort to add more money to the pot, I think a televised 7 on 7 tournament in the spring would be kind of fun.

Yes, there is the possibility of players getting hurt and potentially missing practice time and games when it matters the most, but would some kind of NCAA tournament style type of single elimination be more of a risk than these guys practicing with their own teammates all summer? I doubt it.

I’m sure it would be difficult to get all of the logistics figured out, but I know these programs wouldn’t want to turn away a lot of money if it was offered to them. And if people are tuning in to watch something like the USFL, it’s a no-brainer that Notre Dame vs Ohio State in a 7 on 7 game would pull in ratings.

5. Rodney Gallagher‍ committed to West Virginia today and I think the general consensus is that it’s a loss for Notre Dame, but they will be fine at receiver without him.

I think that’s partly true. Signing him or not isn’t make or break for the wide receiver class this cycle. However, I don’t think there is anyone who Notre Dame is currently targeting at receiver who is quite like him as an athlete and that shouldn’t be brushed aside.

I’ll write it for the millionth time, explosive plays on offense are gold in college football. Gallagher has the ability to create big plays with the ball in his hands where he could turn a bubble screen into a house call. I think the Irish need to land someone with similar ability in that regard because they don’t have enough of those types on the roster outside of Lorenzo Styles Jr.

6. Everyone is really excited about Jadarian Price’s talent, especially with what he showed in the Blue-Gold game. There’s a lot less hype around other players because we simply didn’t see enough of them during the two full practices the media saw (this is including the B-G game).

Chris Tyree missed the one practice and had two carries in the B-G game. Deion Colzie missed practice and didn’t make a big impact in the spring game. Styles was barely targeted in the B-G game and they didn’t take any shots down the field with him. Mitchell Evans was expected to have a big spring, but he didn’t do anything too exciting in the two chances we had to watch him. Of course, Tyler Buchner missed the spring game so we only saw one practice from him and he didn’t have any “wow” moments like we had seen from him previously.

I wanted to mention all of these players specifically because they could all have a significant impact with Notre Dame’s offense this season. A few of them may even prove to be legitimate stars for the Irish, but it’s impossible to predict how good they will be based on what we did and didn’t see in the spring.

Really the same could have been said about the defense as well. If Marist Liufau doesn’t have a pick in the B-G game, I bet there is more message board buzz about JR Tuihalamaka because of his performance than Liufau. We can throw in all of the unknowns at defensive back as well.

Not knowing and wanting to see more from these individuals and others has me more excited about fall camp than any I can remember in recent memory. It’s not even June yet and the anticipation is gnawing at me.

I really hope that there is more access to practices in August than we got in the spring. The access to the coaches is fantastic, but it can’t replace seeing the players compete to get a better gauge of the players and team as a whole. I think there is a lot to be excited about with this Notre Dame roster and I want to have more answers than questions before they start playing games in September.

Men’s Camo Pullover Hoodie

subscribe Verify your student status
See Subscription Benefits
Trial only available to users who have never subscribed or participated in a previous trial.