I first heard the term “incompetency bias” from GOP political strategist Tim Miller, referring to our current political climate, and I thought it applied very well to the current Notre Dame football team. He defined it, more or less, as overcompensating for perceived competence where incompetence was formerly present. To be clear, this doesn’t seem to be a real term with a real definition. He appears to have made it up. But, I do think there is something to it, and I think about this phenomenon a lot regarding Notre Dame, because I think we have seen it before.
I’ve never been more sure of anything in my life than I was in 2005 that Charlie Weis was the goods and Notre Dame was set for a decade. In hindsight, I can’t help but think we were drawn in by the contrast between how atrocious Notre Dame was at all things in 2004, and how the influx of competency led us to believe things that it turned out weren’t true.
The current situation has all the makings of a similar circumstance, especially regarding the defense. They’ve had flurries of incompetence for years on the defensive side; blown assignments, poor fundamentals, and just outright “what in the world is going on?” I can wonder what the improvement of the defense actually means, but at least THAT isn’t happening anymore.
And that’s the problem, we’re comparing what this defense has done compared to units that didn’t even know where to stand. How can we make any judgments on what we’ve seen?
There was a lot of talk this week about last week being Notre Dame’s most complete victory in a really long time. (Drue Tranquill’s answer was Florida State in 2014….you know, if they’d won.) Point being, it had been a while. But it was against a Michigan State team that entered the game ranked #33 in Football Outsiders combined F/+ ratings. Not quite #2 Florida State.
Advanced Stats Continue To Like Notre Dame
(Something to note about these computer rankings right off the top: they don’t work like standard polls. The numbers bear out the results, not necessarily the outcome of games. They don’t blindly drop teams with losses or raise teams with wins, like the coaches or AP poll does. Usually, losing goes hand in hand with a drop in polls because when you play poorly, you lose, which is reflected in the numbers. But, this isn’t always the case. So, something to keep in mind when thinking about these computer rankings.)
Part of the reason I thought Notre Dame had a chance to be a 9 win team this season, in the face of what happened last year, was the advanced stats showed Notre Dame was better than their record indicated. I referenced it several times leading up to this season. The computers thought Notre Dame was good. That remains to be the case.
Following four weeks, Football Outsiders, and their combined F/+ rankings, put Notre Dame at #15, with their best win against then #33 Michigan State, and the loss against now #7 Georgia.
The S&P rating system, part of the combined rating and is opponent adjusted, ranks Notre Dame a little bit lower at #19. Their offense comes in at 23rd nationally, and the defense 18th. I think most fans would agree those numbers sound about right. They really haven’t beaten anyone of note, but they’ve looked pretty good in beating the teams they’ve faced. At the very least, this doesn’t appear to be a bunch of smoke and mirrors. They are playing to their ranking.
They Also Like Some Upcoming Opponents
According to the current F/+ rankings Notre Dame has already faced it’s toughest opponent on the 2017 football schedule (Georgia at #7). Considering they lost by only a point to that team, this news could be considered good for the Irish.
However, USC is right behind at #8, Stanford currently sits at #13, and Miami is two spots below Notre Dame at #17. NC State, a popular problematic pick for Notre Dame, is lurking outside the top 25 at #31. Brian Kelly’s troops have what looks like three toss-up match-ups remaining on the schedule, with two of those games coming late and on the road, sandwiched between Navy who, I mean, isn’t even a thorn in the side anymore as much as a dagger.
It’s no secret the lads have struggled in close games lately, and this season likely won’t succeed without that turning around. Maybe we think Notre Dame can win all of those games, but hoping for multi-score victories isn’t very logical. The teams are too evenly matched, and in the case of USC, Notre Dame is probably outmatched, at least on paper.
Nightmares Of 2014
I don’t think anyone went to bed following the narrow Florida State defeat in 2014 concerned about the state of the program. They, for all intents and purposes, won the game, and officiating controversies aside, it was a big time football game against one of the elites in the sport. On the road. What came after was one of the worst collapses in recent memory. So, it’s hard to believe in anything at this point.
Personally, without the use of any kind of advanced stats, I don’t really see something like that happening this time around, at least from a fundamental standpoint. That team lost Joe Schimdt and suddenly had no idea what it was doing on defense. Like, literally, no idea. I don’t think there is a player on this defense where that is true. We’ve seen a lot of guys play on that unit, and they’ve all shown themselves worthy of their roles. And if a defense is stable, the team is likely to be as well.
But, if recent history has shown us anything, there are lots of reasons for things not to work out. Hopefully in 2017 the inverse will also show itself to be true.