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Notre Dame Football: Why It Makes Sense for Kirk Herbstreit To Rank LSU Over the Irish

The ESPN analyst is positioning himself to look prescient — and betting you won’t remember if he’s wrong.

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Ohio State v Penn State Photo by Justin K. Aller/Getty Images

Kirk Herbstreit, a former Ohio State Buckeyes quarterback, was the color commentator Saturday for his alma mater’s surprise drubbing at the hands of the Purdue Boilermakers. Following the game, the ABC co-host surprised some Notre Dame Fighting Irish fans by leapfrogging the LSU Tigers into the third spot on his personal rankings.

Herbstreit said:

“You’ve obviously got to start with Alabama. Clemson, who looked really good today at home against a top 25 North Carolina State team, moves up. I moved LSU up into the top three. This is a team that you look at who they have played and how they’ve performed, how consistently they’ve performed, I think they deserve to be up there. And I’d put Notre Dame sitting there at four. And Michigan is starting to climb up. Michigan, I would probably put at five.”

I think the College Gameday co-host’s stated justification isn’t sound, but his maneuvering makes sense.

Herbstreit has got a free play here, because the Tigers and the Alabama Crimson Tide play each other Nov. 3. He’s probably also aware the Tide will be two touchdown favorites in that game.

If the Tigers pull the upset, Herbstreit can say, “See, I told you they were worthy of the ranking I gave them after the OSU game.” He looks smart!

If the Bayou Bengals lose, Herbstreit is betting Irish fans won’t spend too much time criticizing him for his Oct. 20 prediction. If they do, he can ignore them or say, “What are you complaining about? I’ve got your team in my top 3 now!”

Now, Herbstreit’s justification for the Tigers is backward-looking, because he’d get castigated for admitting what I think he’s truly doing. So does the argument hold up?

“This is a team that you look at who they have played...”


  • Miami-Florida Hurricanes: Then ranked #8, the Hurricanes lost a neutral-site game to the Tigers. The Hurricanes have lost since, and are now in the “others receiving votes” of the AP Poll.
  • Southeastern Louisiana: The Lions are 3-5 and sixth in the Southland Conference of the Football Championship Subdivision.
  • Auburn Tigers: The seventh-ranked Tigers suffered their first loss to the Tigers, but have lost twice more. They are now 5-3 and fourth in the SEC West.
  • Louisiana Tech Bulldogs: The Bulldogs are 5-2, but are in second place in the western division of Conference USA after a loss to the UAB Blazers.
  • Ole Miss Rebels: The Rebels are 5-3, with all three losses coming in conference. They are fifth in the SEC West.
  • Florida Gators: The Gators are 6-1, with their only loss in conference. They are second in the SEC East.
  • Georgia Bulldogs: The Tigers gave the Bulldogs their only loss, as they are also 6-1, with a single loss in conference.
  • Mississippi St. Bulldogs: These Bulldogs are 4-3 overall, 1-3 in conference (sixth in the SEC West).

LSU’s opponents: 39-20 (.661)
Win-loss of teams they beat: 33-19 (.635)
Win-loss of teams they lost to: 6-1 (.857)

Notre Dame’s opponents: Michigan (7-1); Ball State Cardinals (3-5), Vanderbilt Commodores (3-5), Wake Forest Demon Deacons (3-4), Stanford Cardinal (5-2), Virginia Tech Hokies (4-2), Pittsburgh Panthers (3-4). Those teams are 28-23 (.549).

LSU has the 8th toughest schedule, according to Sagarin. Notre Dame is 36th. At ESPN, they have the Tigers at the 4th toughest schedule and second in “strength of record” — or a judgment of whom you’ve beaten without necessarily factoring in how good you are. (The Irish are 29th in strength of schedule, but first in SOR.)

“...and how they’ve performed...”

For this, I’m turning to Bill Connelly’s post-game win expectancy, which analyzes the data from each game he considers most predictive and returns a percentage. “You could have expected to win this game X percent of the time.”

  • vs. Miami: 94.3 percent
  • vs. SE Louisiana: 100 percent
  • vs. Auburn: 17.4 percent
  • vs. Louisiana Tech: 93.6 percent
  • vs. Ole Miss: 96.8 percent
  • vs. Florida: 22 percent
  • vs. Georgia: 79 percent
  • vs. Mississippi State: 63 percent

LSU should have 5.66 wins. They have seven, with the Auburn win being a clear outlier.

Notre Dame:

  • vs. Michigan: 42.5 percent
  • vs. Ball State: 98 percent
  • vs. Vanderbilt: 43.5 percent
  • vs. Wake Forest: 100 percent
  • vs. Stanford: 97.6 percent
  • vs. Virginia Tech: 94 percent
  • vs. Pittsburgh: 97 percent

The Irish should have 5.73 wins. They have seven, with the Michigan and Vanderbilt wins — both in the Brandon Wimbush era — being the outliers.

“ consistently they’ve performed.”

The Ian Book era has been consistent, according to Connelly’s metrics, even if the Pittsburgh game didn’t feel that way. And what is more consistent that winning every game you’ve played? Notre Dame can boast that, whereas LSU cannot.

What do you think? Can you use alternative data to argue for LSU over Notre Dame?