What Though the Odds Be Great or Small

In Brian Kelly’s 9th season the Fighting Irish become the 10th college program to earn a bid to the playoffs joining Alabama, Clemson, Oklahoma, Oregon, Ohio State, Michigan State, Georgia, Washington, and Florida State. So now, Notre Dame has joined an exclusive club.

My first thought after surveying the landscape with 26 days remaining until the semi-finals kickoff was to try and put some historical context surrounding the teams we’ll see on the field soon. So, I decided to take a look at past S&P+ ratings in the recent past.

Full disclosure, this doesn’t go back that far. I really wish the S&P+ ratings began with the 1998 season because we’d have a clean break from the last option champion (Nebraska) and a cut-off that would make more sense with the game we see today.

Top 10 S&P+ Rated Teams (2005-Present)

S&P Rating Team Year
34.0 Alabama 2016
30.9 Oklahoma 2008
30.6 Florida 2008
29.7 Alabama 2018
29.7 USC 2005
29.3 Texas 2005
28.7 LSU 2011
28.5 Alabama 2012
28.3 USC 2008
27.9 Clemson 2018

Here are several thoughts about this table, the upcoming semi’s, and a couple other topics.

As you’d expect, these teams have gone (pending results for 2 teams!) 128-8 in their respective seasons. That’s kind of good. What’s maybe more interesting is that it includes 4 teams that lost in the National Championship Game, including the top 2 teams on the list. The 2016 Alabama squad will forever regret not winning it all. They beat 5 ranked teams but not the 6th they faced. Curiously, the Tide were the best defense in the country backed by a true freshman quarterback–shades of this year’s Clemson team. In that title game, Deshaun Watson passed for 420 yards on 56 attempts, we should probably get comfortable with the idea that Ian Book will have to use his arm a whole lot on December 29th if the Irish are to win.

A playoff for the 2008 season would’ve been epic as 3 teams from that campaign feature in the Top 10 ratings. That season definitely needs its own 30 for 30 documentary. Oklahoma lost to Texas as No. 1 but would reclaim the top spot after crushing Missouri in the Big 12 title game. Florida dropped a game to unranked Ole Miss (cue the Tebow post-game “promise” speech) and moved up to No. 2 after toppling previously undefeated Alabama in the SEC title game. USC stumbled early at Oregon State and never climbed higher than 5th where they stood in the final BCS rankings! What do you do with one-loss OU, Florida, Texas, Alabama, and USC plus Utah (and Boise) were unbeaten as the Utes took out Alabama in their bowl game. Penn State and Texas Tech were also 1-loss teams and were mere afterthoughts. People are complaining now about this 2018 season but a possibly great USC team not even making the hypothetical playoffs in 2008 would’ve been something.

It’ll probably take the playoffs to appreciate things more fully but both Alabama and Clemson are perhaps severely underrated this year from a historical standpoint. The Tide especially–whether it’s pure boredom of seeing them so much in the spotlight or the suddenly competitive game against Georgia–have gone from “best team ever” to maybe not in the same discussion as some of their other great teams like 2012. Well, I think it’s still very much in play this is Saban’s best team overall. They are giving up 5 more points per game than 2012 but scoring 10 more points–and that’s with Tua missing a whole lot of action. Clemson is currently a full point higher in rating right now than their 2016 title-winning team. When you factor in they may not have a collection of defensive linemen together like this ever again, it’s possible Dabo has his best team if you can convince yourself Trevor Lawrence has freshman balls of steel.

Obviously, the Fighting Irish are big underdogs in this whole thing. But, there is hope! During the S&P+ era the average national title winner carried a 25.7 rating or roughly what the 2013 Florida State team looked like. Every program was at least a 22.0 rating with one exception: 2017 Alabama. The Tide finished at 20.0 last year I think it’s fair to say because their offense under Jalen Hurts really bogged down over the course of the year. Notre Dame’s current rating is 20.6 and would be a touch higher if Ian Book games are projected over the whole season.

Let’s not sleep on the Sooners, either. We might have to wait decades for a worse defense to make a 4-team playoff and by then the tournament surely will be expanded. However, offense > defense and if you’re going to be strong on one side of the ball well Oklahoma’s offense is downright scary. Here are the top-rated offenses over the past 5 seasons according to S&P:

Oklahoma 2018 (52.2)
Oklahoma 2017 (47.2)
Oklahoma 2016 (46.8)
Alabama 2018 (46.4)
Texas Tech 2015 (45.5)
Ohio State 2014 (45.5)
Oregon 2014 (45.0)

What do they put in the water in Norman? That’s a heck of a resume-builder for Lincoln Riley. It’s a bit frightening to see Alabama of today on this list although their 8th defensive rating and their recent game against the Dawgs do point out that the Tide have more cracks in their defensive armor than usual. That’s great news for Oklahoma! They are head and shoulders above the best offenses in recent seasons and if you’re going to beat Alabama surely it will be by out-scoring them in a race to the finish.

The conference title week seems to have swung the pendulum in favor of Kyler Murray winning the Heisman and to me that’s probably the correct choice. Tua’s season was memorable for its efficiency but due to the Crimson Tide’s weaker-than-normal schedule it lacked any signature moments and he completely missed that opportunity against Georgia by first playing poorly, being injured and continuing to play poorly, then finally exiting with an ankle injury. Jalen Hurts coming in and immediately sparking the offense to a comeback win isn’t a good look no matter how you slice it.

Tua really doesn’t have the raw stats that would justify the award, although sitting out so many 4th quarter blowouts is a valid rebuttal. I’m just saying, years down the road looking back at his numbers it would be a little bit of a head scratcher. Still, the Tide quarterback is sitting at 3,543 yards of total offense and the last several Heisman winners at the position were all around 5,000 yards or a little over that mark. Murray had to carry so much more of the load for Oklahoma and will break the 5,000-yard mark after a series or two against Alabama. In fact, he’s already surpassed Baker Mayfield’s 2017 in terms of yardage and touchdowns with only one more interception. It could be a very close vote but the Heisman should be Kyler Murray’s. You never know how many dumb voters made up their mind weeks ago, though.

By |2018-12-03T22:03:52+00:00December 3rd, 2018|Football|37 Comments

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Irishchamp23
Irishchamp23

Great analysis. I guess if we get credit for book not playing the first few games then Clemson also should get credit for Lawrence not playing (though is it true that he split time with Bryant the first few games?)

The numbers here don’t give me much confidence but I suppose if we can neutralize their pass rush (including a ton of blitzing) we may have a chance. That’s gotta be the biggest factor in the game.

I wonder how we rank against the past playoff participants. Is our s+p better than Mich st who was maybe the worst playoff team (?). And actually what was our 2012 team’s s+p? Clemson is basically the 2012 Bama according to s+p but are we much better by the numbers?

Irishchamp23
Irishchamp23

Actually our S+P for 2012, if I’m reading this right, was 21.7. So we are maybe equal to the 2012 team if the extra credit we would get for Book not having played the first 3 games is enough.

And this isn’t exhaustive but FSU in 2014 was only 14.8 and Mich. St. in 2015 was 14. So we are not even close to being the worst playoff team and are a legitimate playoff team in fact. By legitimate, I just mean that we have a shot then to win a game or two. We are more like 2016 Washington team (who was 20.6) – except they went up against the historic Bama team that year and lost 24-7.

Michael Bryan

OU-Bama could and hopefully will be fascinating. Reminds me of tennis a little bit with the offenses – Bama is like a Pete Sampras with an incredible serve and strong all around game, and OU kind of like Roddick or John Isner – monster serve and hard to break but far less complete. The Sooners averaged 4.20 points per drive (excluding garbage time) and Bama 4.04, so even drives ending in field goals are a little bit like breaking serve in tennis.

And that’s gotta be the formula for Oklahoma – just hope the offense plays a virtually perfect game to “hold serve” almost every possession, winning the points per scoring opportunity (because both teams should have many) battle and getting some turnover luck to win a shootout. But I just keep remembering that West Virginia game – if those receivers can break tons of long TD’s on the OU secondary, what will Bama’s freaks do?

MikeyB
MikeyB

I’m very interested to see how Saban coaches this game. Will he be content to try to outscore Oklahoma? He’s obviously opened things up a ton over the past couple of years, but he’s still a defensive guy at heart.

Irishchamp23
Irishchamp23

And I wonder how much Tua will try to do too much (like against Georgia) and make some mistakes with real game pressure that could cost them the game if Oklahoma’s offense “holds serve.”

GoldenIsThyFame
GoldenIsThyFame

The dirty secret with Tua is that he’s actually very poor if you can get pressure on him. That’s the opposite of what Jameis Winston was at FSU, he had some of the craziest passing numbers I’ve ever seen against the blitz.

The problem is that he’s almost never pressured because of his line and a lot of the stuff Bama runs is designed to roll him out and keep him out of those tight spots. But on those fleeting occasions where he isn’t able to escape, you can turn him over.

KG
KG

@I thought the dirty secret was that they let him take classes in his “native language” so he can stay eligible?@

kiwifan
kiwifan

Is that the sarcasm symbol?

KG
KG

@no, not at all@

kiwifan
kiwifan

Most qb’s are susceptible to a strong rush. Haskins sure is for instance. Book included, which is why I think our Oline is critical for us to have a shot. I don’t have a lot of confidence in them against Clemson’s defense.

In fairness to Tua, he was killing blitzes before he got hurt, and never looked 100% vs Georgia.

Irishchamp23
Irishchamp23

Unrelated, but big news that Meyer is retiring after the rose bowl. That’s got to be good news for us in recruiting in the next few years. Any chance any particular recruit might jump ship and that we’d be a landing spot for?

nd09hls12
nd09hls12

Steele Chambers somewhat surprisingly committed to Ohio State when he appeared to be a good fit at ND (good student; ND needed a 4-star running back in a bad way). I’d think we’d still take him if we had room, but it’s not clear we have room.

juicebox
juicebox

We should get him court side seats with Lisa Ann. With a name like Steele Chambers, I assume that will be his next line of work.

KG
KG

My first thought was that he should play for Army, given that a few years ago they had a QB named Trent Steelman or something like that.

Then I thought some more, and decided no. Army using a “Steele Chambers” to break the will of opponents is how you end up on trial at the Hague.

Russell Knox
Russell Knox

Too funny.

spider-man
spider-man

I don’t think there is much (or any) room left this year, besides the spot or 2 they were holding open for a last minute pass rusher. Also, with the continuity of promoting Day I doubt that they lose anyone.

Brendan R

They’ve had a couple of decommitments already. Chambers might be open to looking around – highly speculative and some info I’ve seen is premium, so two good reasons not go beyond that. But that door isn’t completely closed.

There’s a spot for Isaiah Foskey for sure. They’ll figure out a way to take Chambers if he wants to come.

hooks orpik
hooks orpik

Was looking into the 2016 recruiting stuff. Fun to see how things turned out and man, Brendan hit a home run on his sleepers….

https://www.onefootdown.com/2016/2/4/10892392/2016-football-recruiting-notre-dame-signing-day-in-review-national-signing-day

“Biggest Sleepers: Ian Book and Julian Love

Ian Book is not your typical three star – he’s a guy that Mike Sanford has wanted badly for two years because he saw something in this kid. He tore up some excellent competition in California. Given how good his game looks right now, it wouldn’t surprise me at all if he ultimately goes on to contribute significantly and, hey, maybe even start a few games. I think we’ll all be pleasantly surprised when we see him in action.

On defense, I’d pick Julian Love. There are lots of guys in this class with potential and upside who could be labeled as “sleepers,” but I just feel like our fans devalue him too much because of his rankings. This kid can play, and will turn some heads when he gets to the field. STONE.”

Orlok
Orlok

Someone get Brendan in touch with Kelly!

Brendan R

Ha, thanks man. In fairness, in the section right above that I said Studstill was a guy to watch, and earlier this year I said Book was probably not a guy you could rely on as a regular starter.

But I’ll take the W here. I’m a genius! Woohoo!

Orlok
Orlok

We’re in a lull, so here’s your Stanford hate watch update:
1. Recruiting class – well below recent average
2. Record – just good enough to mean…
3. No coaching changes, which is awesome because…
4. They lose a ton of guys next year.

If we played them mid-season, I would be confident of a win. But we play them on the road at the end of the season – say what you want about Shaw, his teams improve over the season. So I’m still a little nervous. But if you asked me at the start of the season, I’d be thrilled with (1) – (4). @Irregardless!@

Michael Bryan

it’s pretty miraculous how they somehow always seem on the verge of bottoming out but somehow still have decent records. that said, yes to all of the above, and also if you peek at their schedule next year, they play 11 P5 opponents (9 Pac-12, including Washington, Wazzu, Oregon, USC), us at the end of the year, Northwestern, and @ UCF. Somehow they’ll probably slither through, but the potential is there (again). Also, Costello could have some pro buzz?

KG
KG

Perfectly happy with them being 8-4/9-3 each year, especially if there have a non-conference loss in the mid-season in even years and last regular season game in odd years, with a few Pac12 North titles in there.

Orlok
Orlok

Yeah, if they can figure things out on the line, I think Costello will lead a good offense by the end of the season. I also think they’re returning 7-8 starters on defense, so I don’t see them collapsing next year. But their recruiting this year is not going great – even adjusting for their smaller class size, the star distribution is below their 10 year average.

kiwifan
kiwifan

I’ve always heard defense trumps offense. Looking at Bama D vs OU offense, the Bama D is much stronger than anyoneOU has played this year. Add the month of Saban genius time and the athletes Bama has, I’d expect them to stop OU a reasonable number of times.

OU D stopping Bama’s O a reasonable number of times, not so much. My brother, who’s coached with Saban, tells me OU doesn’t recruit all that well on defense, especially in the secondary.

It will certainly be an entertaining game IMO.

Brendan R

Wait… Your brother coached with Saban? Are you at liberty to expound?

kiwifan
kiwifan

Sorry, no, not without giving him away. I will say that Meyer, Saban, and Snyder came to his wife’s funeral who died young some years back. His take is we may be able to keep competitive with Clemson since we also have a strong defense, so long as Book has some time.

He expects Bama to boat race the OU defense. He sees the OU safeties as shockingly weak, opening up both run and pass with the stable of RBs and receivers Bama has.

Murray’s scares him though.