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Irish Injuries By The Numbers

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Just the facts, please.

Matt Cashore-USA TODAY Sports

A Season with Notre Dame Football Injuries. That’s what they should have named the show. It shouldn’t be news to anyone reading this that Notre Dame has not been bitten by the injury bug, but poked the nest with a stick and got caught in the swarm. We give a lot of credit, rightfully so, to Coach Kelly and his staff for navigating this schedule despite such harsh attrition. Those are our feelings; this is our belief.

On message boards across the internet however, fans of other teams sound a different tune. Injuries are part of the game. Everyone has them. Shut up and stop complaining. Injuries are part of the game. Every team certainly does experience injuries. But to say that Notre Dame’s experience was somehow average doesn’t pass the smell test.

To investigate this further, I took a look at this site’s listing of all the injuries across CFB rosters. I then narrowed the list down to Power 5 teams + ND. From their I accounted for injuries that were listed as either ‘out for the season’ or ‘out indefinitely’. Any player assigned either of those designations for a non-injury reason (e.g. suspension, academic ineligibility, etc.) was excluded from that team’s final count of injuries. I focused on these two designations and not the week-to-week injuries, because season-ending injuries force a staff and team to significantly alter their style of play for an extended period of time, as opposed to one or two weeks at a time. I also tried to put more weight on contribution in the regular season. For example, Durham Smythe and Jarron Jones are listed as possible for the bowl game. I re-classified them as out for the season, because, well, they missed the whole season (excepting the game and half in which Smythe played). I tried to assess this for each team as fairly as I could and these are reflected in the totals for each team. So here are the data I compiled:

School Number of Injuries
Alabama 2
Arkansas 4
Auburn 5
Florida 2
Georgia 3
Kentucky 0

LSU

3
Ole Miss 5
Mississippi State 3
Missouri 4
South Carolina 0
Tennessee 11
Texas A&M 1
Vanderbilt 0
Boston College 0
Clemson 2
Duke 3
Florida State 8
Georgia Tech 0
Louisville 0
Miami 4
UNC 7
NC State 1
Pitt 4
Syracuse 0
Virginia 0
Virginia Tech 3
Wake Forest 0
Illinois 0
Indiana 4
Iowa 1
Maryland 0
Michigan 4
Michigan State 4
Minnesota 6
Nebraska 3
Northwestern 5
Ohio State 6
Penn State 3
Purdue 0
Rutgers 0
Wisconsin 5
Arizona 5
Arizona State 5
Cal 2
UCLA 7
Colorado 0
Oregon 5
Oregon State 0
USC 5
Stanford 2
Utah 9
Washington 5
Washington State 0
Baylor 1
Iowa State 0
Kansas 0
Kansas State 3
Oklahoma 1
Oklahoma State 2

Texas

0
TCU 7
Texas Tech 3
West Virginia 1

Mean = 2.76

Standard deviation = 2.63

ND had 8 season-ending injuries.

One thing to note is that I suspect there are some data points missing here. For example, I know BC’s quarterback went down for the season against FSU, but BC does not have any entries on the site. This could drive up the average number of injuries for a Power 5 team, but I think at this juncture we can work with what we have.

I performed an unpaired t-test, a statistical operation that is used to determine if the difference between two averages is significant. In order to make the software work, I had to put two values in the ND column because it wouldn’t use a single variable. To work around this, I put in 8 twice, so that the mean came out to 8 and I was comparing the 8 to the mean of all Power 5 schools. I think this should still work fine, but if anyone in the commentariat knows a problem with this methodology please post it in the comments so we can have the most accurate analysis. These were our results:

Difference between means (Power 5 – ND): -5.24

95% confidence interval: -8.98 to -1.50

p = 0.0068

t = 2.7999

df = 63

Standard error of difference = 1.871

These results indicate that the number of season-ending injuries sustained by the Fighting Irish over the course of this season is significantly different from the average number of season-ending injuries sustained by other Power-5 teams. Weighing the impact of each injury would be far too complex for this article, as injured players are not fungible. A season-ending injuring to a back-up long snapper does not carry the same weight as the loss of a starting running back. A major limitation of our little study is that we cannot begin to parse these differences.

Interestingly, there were a few teams that had an injury count in the vicinity of Notre Dame’s. Here’s a quick tabulation of those teams.

School Number of Injuries Wins
Tennessee 11 8
UNC 7 11
Florida State 8 10
Minnesota 6 5
Ohio State 6 11
UCLA 7 8
Utah 9 9
TCU 7 10

It's tough for me to see a real pattern here. Looking at strength of schedule could be instructive; from top to bottom of the table: 12th, 35th, 29th, 48th, 37th, 27th, 22nd, 7th. Perhaps the argument could be made that the impact of so many injuries was hidden by playing weaker opponents. This is beyond the scope of this article, but should feed good discussion.

In short, Notre Dame experienced a rash of injuries this season that went well beyond the norm in this year's Power-5. That said, Notre Dame's resilience can only be described as remarkable.  I won't go so far as to call it miraculous -- Brian Kelly has focused on building quality depth the last five years after all -- but the results have been downright impressive. Here's to finishing strong and spanking the Buckeyes!