The BCS calculus for Notre Dame is simple. Beat USC on Saturday and play in the national championship game. Can the Fighting Irish do it?
Most of the headlines focus on Notre Dame’s defense. Led by linebacker Manti T’eo, the Fighting Irish have allowed 10.1 points per game, best in the nation. With the injury to USC quarterback Matt Barkley, Notre Dame’s defense will most likely have a good day.
But what about Notre Dame’s offense?
Notre Dame’s Offense
The raw statistics suggest Notre Dame has a poor offense. For example, the Fighting Irish pass for 211 yards per game, a number that includes negative yards from sacks. Their 74th ranking places them below average nationally.
However, total yards per game is a misleading statistic.
Yards per game depends on how many times a team throws the ball. Notre Dame doesn’t throw the ball as often as the spread offense of West Virginia. Using simple division, we divide total pass yards per game by the number of attempts to obtain a better metric of pass offense. Notre Dame averages 6.83 yards per pass attempt, 51st best in the nation.
Simple division turns a below average pass offense into an above average one.
Dividing total yards by the number of plays lets us account for the pace of the football game. It is analogous to the tempo free statistics that Dean Oliver introduced into basketball. Looking at points per possession shed a new light on offenses that didn’t fast break and looked for the best possible shot late in the shot clock. Yards per attempt is the first step in incorporating these ideas into football.
Match Up With USC’s Defense
At The Power Rank, we take yards per pass attempt and adjust it for strength of schedule. Since Notre Dame has played top pass defenses such as Stanford, Michigan State and Oklahoma, our algorithm bumps up their pass offense from 51st to 28th. Their rating of 7.04 gives a predicted yards per attempt against an average pass defense.
Below, we show how our adjusted numbers for Notre Dame’s offense match up with USC’s defense. A better defense has a blue dot further to the right. Then the unit with the dot further to the right is predicted to have the advantage in the match up. By overall yards per play, Notre Dame’s offense enjoys a slight advantage over USC’s disappointing defense.
These visuals appear on our interactive team pages, the heart of our premium college football product. For more information, click here.
Our team rankings predict a very even game (USC by 0.3 points). However, these numbers reflect a USC team with quarterback Matt Barkley. The Vegas line has Notre Dame as a 6 point favorite.
Is the injury to Barkley worth 6 points? We’ll find out Saturday.
Thanks for reading.