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Notre Dame’s Recipe For Disaster

Notre Dame’s stunning defeat at Michigan last night only proves to highlight just how much mistakes have cost Notre Dame their chance at playing not only for a BCS Bowl, but quite possibly a BCS Championship in 2011. South Florida & Michigan are top-25 teams. You simply can’t show up, go through the motions, make as many mistakes as possible, and still pull out victories. I believe Alabama is the very best team in college football and they didn’t have an extremely easy time beating Penn St. yesterday in Beaver Stadium. You still have to show up and play the games.

The first ingredient in Notre Dame’s recipe for disaster is turnover margin. Through 2 games, the Irish are -7 in this category. That means the Irish are on pace to be -42 over the course of a season! Over the last 4 seasons, here are the teams that had the worst TO margins in the FBS and their records:

2010: Middle Tennessee St. = -19; Record = 6-7
2009: Miami-OH = -24; Record = 1-11

2008: Washington St. = -25; Record = 2-11

2007: Baylor = -18; Record = 3-9

The converse side of that is the teams with the best turnover margin the last 4 seasons:

2010: Virginia Tech = +19; Record = 11-3 (Auburn ranked #31 at +5)
2009: Air Force = +22; Record = 8-5 (Alabama ranked #4 at +19)

2008: Oklahoma = +23; Record = 12-2 (Florida ranked #2 at +22)

2007: Kansas = +21; Record = 12-1 (LSU ranked #2 at +20)

Turnovers are a part of the game and as you can see, those that win the turnover battle win massive amounts of games and national championships while those who don’t win the turnover battle lose massive amounts of games and look worse than they really are. Turnovers are thought to be statistically fluky. The philosophy is that they will even out over time and teams will even out. Unfortunately this doesn’t happen within an entire season. Notre Dame’s -7 start in TO margin is an ominous sign to be sure. I highly doubt they’ll finish -42 in this particular category, but certain aspects of football have an inertia all their own. From the looks of it, Notre Dame is going to be battling turnover problems all season long. There will certainly be some regression, but remember that last season Notre Dame was +1 in TO margin. There is no regression or improvement expected this season based on last year’s total. This is simply the Irish making massive mistakes against good teams they can ill afford to make. This is why the Irish are 0-2 instead of 2-0.

The second ingredient to Notre Dame’s poor start is penalties. The Irish on the season have now committed 17 penalties for 148 yards! That puts the Irish on pace to commit 102 penalties for 888 yards. That averages out to 74 yards of penalties per game. Let’s take a look at the worst penalty yards/G averages over the last 4 years along with the team’s record:

2010: Baylor = 77.5ypg; Record = 7-6
2009: Arizona St. = 85.6ypg; Record = 4-8

2008: Hawaii = 78.4ypg; Record = 7-7

2007: Kansas St. = 80.2ypg; Record = 5-7

Now the reverse side of things, looking at the least penalized teams:

2010: Navy = 27.6ypg; Record = 9-4 (Auburn was #68 with 53.2ypg)
2009: Navy = 29.6ypg; Record = 10-4 (Alabama was #15 with 42.7ypg)

2008: Ball St. = 26.7ypg; Record = 12-2 (Florida was #96 with 59.9ypg) note: Navy was #2
2007: Navy = 29.8ypg; Record = 8-5 (LSU was #97 with 62.9ypc)

The correlation here isn’t quite as strong as it is with turnovers, but no championship team was hanging near the bottom of the rankings either. Penalties are a mixed bag for Brian Kelly coached teams the last 4 seasons. Looking at Kelly coached teams the last 4 seasons we get:

2010: Notre Dame = 40.7ypg; Rank = #14
2009: Cincinnati = 45.3ypg; Rank = #29
2008: Cincinnati = 64.5ypg; Rank = #103
2007: Cincinnati = 79.1ypg; Rank = #118

The Bearcats really improved culminating in Cincinnati’s 12-0 perfect season before being beaten by Florida in the BCS Sugar Bowl. Notre Dame got off the ground running last season, but things are certainly trending down through the first two games of the 2011 season.

What we do know is that the Irish are on pace to become the worst TO prone team in football history. They are also on pace to being one of the top-10 most penalized teams in FBS football this season. When you combine these two statistics, you certainly find yourself digging incredible holes that are impossible to climb out of. The Irish aren’t playing in the MAC or Sun Belt conferences. There are some easy games on the schedule for Notre Dame, but South Florida & Michigan aren’t easy games. Neither are the next two when the Irish play Michigan St. & Pittsburgh. The Irish have to be careful or the 0-2 start could quickly turn into 0-4. There isn’t a game on the schedule I feel is a loss outside of the road trip to Stanford to end the season. Notre Dame could easily finish the season 9-3 or even 10-2 if a miracle happens at Stanford. The season is far from over, but the slim margin for error has turned into a non-existent margin of error and given Notre Dame’s proclivities for turnovers & penalties, Brian Kelly’s 2nd season in South Bend is quickly turning into a lost cause.

A SILVER LINING?

Keep in mind that TO margin should even out over time if not over the course of a single season. Notre Dame’s path might be taking shape as a turnover prone team, but what that should tell us is that the Irish are in for some serious regression in 2012. If the Irish are -24 in TO margin by the end of this season, we can expect the Irish to be +18-+22 next year. If that’s the case then it’ll be hard for Notre Dame to not finish the season 11-1/12-0 which puts them directly in the middle of a national championship picture.

We can also expect the penalties to come down. Cincinnati made marked improvements under Kelly culminating with a relatively penalty free 2009 season that resulted in a perfect 12-0 regular season for the Bearcats. The Irish did a great job on not being penalized in 2010, but the 2011 Irish are a penalty heavy team. Brian Kelly will get this turned around even if it doesn’t show up this season. The track record indicates improvement. The Irish will improve.

For Irish fans, there is still hope for 2011, but if these trends continue for the extent of this season, then regression to the mean and Lady Luck could shine down heavily on Notre Dame in 2012. It took Kelly 3 years to get a perfect season in Cincinnati. Maybe it’ll take him 3 in South Bend?

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September 11, 2011 - Posted by | Notre Dame

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