The countdown to the return of Notre Dame football is approaching its final stages and I’m almost certain that this preseason will go down in the history books for its high levels of anticipation and fanfare. As an early 90’s baby, I can’t say that I’ve been privy to a lot of preseasons where the momentum leading into the season was this positive (by ND standards).
Traditionally, my college football media intake during July and August media has been “heavily” tinged with skepticism and a laundry list of the often-repeated red flags. This preseason has felt different, though. The entire conversation around college football (for both performance and business reasons) is the most energized I’ve ever seen it. Folks have also demonstrated a unique level of interest and/or excitement centered around a comparably diversified set of reasons associated with this season’s Irish football team.
I’ve perceived it to be somewhat unique from the temperature during other preseasons within the last couple of decades largely because of the more even balance between skeptics and supporters. Given the personnel changes, juggernaut of a season opener opponent and the #5 AP preseason ranking, the attacks against the program could definitely be coming a lot stronger than they have. The usual suspects have done their things (granted in more humorous and creative ways than they’ve tried in the past) but it’s all been somewhat measured.
There’s a very real likelihood that all of that comes crashing down depending on how things go on Saturday night. I’ve got no doubt that if there is an outrageous ND blowout, Irish media folks and fans will be reenacting a scene out of 300 with the naysayers coming from every angle. But for now I’m feeling pretty good about everything.
Strength of Schedule Overview
Data analytics in prep for games is always tough because there are so many different angles you can investigate, especially when it’s the season opener for both teams of focus. One piece of the analytics’ puzzle that can start to be put together, though, is Strength of Schedule. Strength of Schedule is one of the most controversial stats associated with football at all levels and rightfully so. Any conversation or calculation can be torpedoed by caveats like the timing of injuries, scheme/depth chart evolution and changes in weather. Regardless of the complexity and squishiness, though, it’s one of the most fun metrics to think through. A preliminary approach for thinking about ND football’s 2022 Strength of Schedule is centered around 2 key aspects: 1) number of ranked teams played by opponents and 2) opponents with shared opponents.
Ranked Teams Played by Opponents
Looking at the total number of ranked teams (AP) played by the ND’s opponents on a weekly basis provides a peek at how folks might measure the “quality” of opponents going into any given matchup as well as how the schedule’s strength evolves over time. Going into Week 1, the majority (10, 83%) of ND’s opponents play at least one team that’s ranked in the AP preseason top 25 poll. Marshall and UNLV are the only teams on the schedule whose sole ranked opponents are the Irish. The rest of the schedule ranges between 1-5 ranked opponents. Three teams (California, Navy and USC) play 2-3 preseason ranked teams, including ND. The bulk of this season’s opponents are playing four preseason ranked opponents. This group of teams includes, Clemson, Stanford, BYU, UNC, Boston College and Ohio State. Syracuse is the outlier through this lens, sitting at the top of the list with 5 opponents in the AP top 25 poll.
Because this metric will inevitably change as the season plods along (I’m expecting at least three major surprises by Tuesday afternoon), there’s another data viz cut that has a chronological focus. From this angle, Weeks 1 to 2 will be one of the most off kilter with regards to Strength of Schedule, jumping from Ohio State to Marshall. Based on the numbers as is, the Irish would experience their most sustained, in terms of Strength of Schedule, run of 4 games between the California and Stanford contests. The UNLV matchup in late October will kick off a bit of a topsy turvy ride through the remainder of the regular season.
Another layer of the Strength of Schedule that builds on the ranked opponents metric is the number of shared opponents among the schedule. This data point differs in the sense that it is fixed at the beginning of the season but the interpretation at any given point in time is almost completely subjective. It seems to most often rear its indecisive head towards the end of the season when everyone’s favorite debate about “quality wins” hits a fever pitch.
For the Irish’s 2022 campaign, California and Stanford stand out as the most common threads throughout the schedule. BYU and UNLV end up having some of the loosest threads, being tied in by appearances against California and Stanford while Ohio State, Marshall, UNC and Navy stand out for having zero shared opponents.
From the chronological angle, the first half of the season is primarily characterized by meetings with California and Stanford (teams with a lot of common threads throughout the schedule) and teams with few to none shared opponents. Through the second half of the season is where things will start to get particularly interested for ND with regards to the quality of wins Strength of Schedule more generally.
Week 1 Preview: #2 Ohio State
Instead of trying to get into too sophisticated of a quant preview of the season opener (and likely stamping out the joy I’ve experienced this preseason) based on more current data and projections, I decided to just roll with a glance back at ND’s football history against the Buckeyes.
On/Off Again Relationship
Just from a data perspective, one of the most defining features of the ND-Ohio State football relationship going into the 2022 season opener is the spottiness of meetings. The two teams have played each other six times between 1935 and 2015. Of these six matchups, only the first four took place during the regular seasons. The two earliest, played in 1935 and 1936 resulted in Irish victories, with +5 final point differences for each game. The next clump of games was played in 1995 and 1996, contests that were both won by Ohio State. The total point difference for ND in each game was -19 and -13, respectively. Since 1996 the Irish have only played Ohio State in bowl games. The teams met both times in the Fiesta Bowl, the 2005 and 2015 editions. The total point difference for ND in those matchups was -14 and -16, respectively.
The historical numbers don’t paint the rosiest of pictures for Saturday’s game but to be honest what’s available is so situational that it’s anybody’s guess. Regardless of how things go on the field, what the ultimate outcome is and what kind of data conversations are going to be had on Sunday morning, it’s been a really fun preseason. Now I’m pivoting myself to the phase of the week where the real work kicks in. This is the phase where the professionals and details fade to the background and the fanbase shenanigans take center stage.
As the Twitter feeds and meme engines start to hit peak performance, the plan is to take it all in, get my momentum crazy drummed up, go into Saturday morning with completely unreasonable delusions of grandeur and then just fall through the unknown until I wake up on Sunday to piece together the undeniable chaos of the last 24 hours.
Cheers to everyone. Go Irish.