Blue and Gold Illustrated

April 2017

Blue & Gold Illustrated: America's Foremost Authority on Notre Dame Football

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www.BLUEANDGOLD.com APRIL 2017 33 E ven though game results on the field were very disappointing last fall, Notre Dame has overcome those struggles on the recruiting front in the early part of the new year. There were concerns in December and January among fans that the 2017 class would finish well below program expectations on the heels of a 4-8 re- cord, numerous decommitments and significant coaching changes. Instead, head coach Brian Kelly and his staff closed strong and turned in a top-15 class according to each of the primary recruiting ranking services. And that momentum appears to have carried into the 2018 recruiting cycle as well. The Irish have a class ranked No. 3 as of March 14. Talent acquisition through the an- nual recruiting process is a huge factor in positioning programs for success in subsequent seasons, even if it doesn't paint the entire picture. The development of talent between the time those players arrive on campus until they depart is just as important, and the performance of an offensive and defensive unit isn't simply the sum of the talent on the field. Nevertheless, based on recruiting data alone, we can evaluate how the Irish have overper- formed or underperformed in relation to talent expectations in recent years. I collected data from several re- cruiting services and combined it into four-year stretches to identify a "roster rating" for each Football Bowl Subdi- vision (FBS) program heading into the next season. Over the last seven years, the ros- ter ratings had a .626 correlation with my FEI opponent-adjusted drive ef- ficiency ratings — the most talented rosters had much more success in a given year than the least talented ros- ters, and teams generally performed within range of their talent level each year in that span. There are exceptions, of course. Navy's recruiting classes have been ranked in the 10th percentile on aver- age nationally according to the roster ratings, meaning 90 percent of all other FBS teams field more talent than the Midshipmen. In the same span, Navy posted a 52-32 record (.619) against FBS opponents, and their average FEI rating over the last seven years ranked in the 61st percentile. No other program has outperformed its talent level since 2010 as well, or as consistently, as Navy. Irish fans know this all too well because the Midship- men have taken down Notre Dame twice in the last seven seasons (and four times in the last 10). Another program familiar to Irish fans that has consistently outper- formed its roster ratings is Stanford. The Cardinal have a 74-18 (.804) record against FBS opponents dating back to 2010, and are 5-2 against Brian Kelly's Notre Dame teams to date. Stanford's average roster rating in the last seven season ranks in the 82nd percentile, while their average FEI rat- ing ranks in the 91st percentile in the same span. Stanford's average talent overachievement ranks fifth among all FBS teams since 2010. Meanwhile, the Irish have been de- cidedly average in terms of achieve- ment relative to roster rating over the last seven seasons. The 2012 and 2015 Notre Dame teams outperformed their relative roster rating expectations, the 2014 and 2016 squads were un- derachievers, and the 2010, 2011 and 2013 units posted efficiency numbers in close proximity to what their roster rating expectations indicated. Fans may be quick to point out the seemingly high frequency with which Notre Dame has lost games to teams with lesser rosters, but those results don't stand out significantly in com- parison with other programs. In more than 5,000 FBS matchups played since 2010, the team with the better roster rating won only 66.4 percent of the time. Notre Dame has won 68.9 percent of its games under Kelly when the Irish have had a talent advantage accord- ing to roster ratings, and they've won 50 percent of the time when their op- ponent has had a talent advantage. Neither of those percentages is spec- tacular, but both are above average in comparison with other programs. In February, I ran an analysis of Notre Dame's program trajectory against the trajectories of teams in the last decade that have followed a simi- lar path in order to help identify where the Irish may land in 2017. We can do a similar exercise with roster ratings. I compared the last four years of recruiting data for the Irish with recruiting data assembled by other programs over the last five seasons. The teams with the most similar ros- ter ratings with the 2017 Irish include a few that enjoyed elite success. The 2013 Clemson Tigers and the 2013 Oklahoma Sooners both went 11-2 in their respective seasons, each fielding a team with similar roster rat- ings with what the Irish will have this fall. Those two programs capped the year with major bowl victories over recruiting stalwarts Ohio State and Alabama. On the other end of the spectrum, two programs with similar roster rat- ings with the 2017 Irish were the 2016 UCLA Bruins (4-8) and 2012 Tennessee Volunteers (5-7), records that Notre Dame fans won't be able to stomach after last year's 4-8 fiasco. On average, the 10 programs with the most similar roster ratings with the 2017 Irish went 8-5 in their respec- tive seasons. As with the program rat- ings analysis, recruiting success is only one indicator of expectations. Notre Dame has its work cut out for itself on multiple fronts next year to outper- form modest expectations rather than merely meet them. ✦ IRISH ANALYTICS BRIAN FREMEAU Brian Fremeau of ESPN/Football Outsiders has been a statistical analyst at Blue & Gold Illustrated since January 2015. He can be reached at bcfremeau@gmail.com. Success On The Recruiting Trail Should Help Head coach Brian Kelly has compiled enough tal- ent on the Irish roster to bounce back from last season's 4-8 campaign. PHOTO BY JOE RAYMOND

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