ESPN released its initial Football Power Index numbers for the 2020 season over the weekend, and the FPI is giving Notre Dame little chance in their three most significant games of the year – Wisconsin, Clemson, and USC. Perhaps that’s not too surprising to some, but not only is ESPN’s model favoring those three right now, its barely giving Notre Dame a chance.
For those unfamiliar with the ESPN Football Power Index, it’s an algorithm that predicts the likelihood of a team winning a particular game from a score of 0-100%. In nine of Notre Dame’s 2020 games, ESPN’s model 65% chance of victory. Interestingly enough, that 65% is for the Louisville contest in November and not Stanford’s October visit to the Midwest. The FPI gives the Irish a 75% chance in that contest.
In the three biggest games of the year, however, here’s how little of a chance the FPI is currently giving the Irish.
- Wisconsin – 26.5%
- Clemson – 13.3%
- USC – 30.4%
It’s not surprising at all that ESPN has Notre Dame as an underdog against Clemson given what the Tigers did to the Irish just 16 months ago, but a 26.5% chance against Wisconsin and just a little over a 30% chance against USC? Well now, that’ll raise some eyebrows. So we’ll leave that one alone. Until Notre Dame beats a team like Clemson, that doesn’t feel inaccurate.
Wisconsin and USC, on the other hand, don’t feel nearly accurate at all, so we will talk about them.
Let’s start with Wisconsin. The Badgers are a great team, but let’s not forget that they finished the 2019 season 10-4 and ranked just one spot higher than Notre Dame in the final AP rankings of the season. The game is set to be played in Lambeau Field, which will favor Wisconsin, but there is still a strong contingent of Irish fans in the area, and honestly, who knows what kind of home-field advantage anyone will have in 2020 – assuming there are even games this fall.
If this game were closer to 50/50 or even 60/40 in Wisconsin’s favor, I wouldn’t have batted an eye. But I did do a double-take when I saw ESPN’s model giving the Badgers a 76/24 edge right now.
USC is even more puzzling to me since Notre Dame has beaten USC three straight years and won six of the last eight meetings between the two. I guess the FPI doesn’t take into account the “head coach likely to be fired before the end of the year factor” with a guy like Clay Helton.
Reminder: USC finished 8-5 in 2019, including a 30-27 loss to Notre Dame in October. They finished their season by getting blown out 49-24 to Iowa in the Holiday Bowl.
Trying to predict games this far out is just as inaccurate as all of the mock drafts currently trying to predict this week’s NFL Draft – especially this year with the uncertainty surrounding all sports right now. That said, I’m still not sure how ESPN’s model gives Notre Dame such a low chance of victory against USC right now.
The Trojans did find their quarterback in Kedon Slovis, which ended up pushing former 5-star recruit JT Daniels into the transfer portal, but USC is still not expected to start the season as a top-10 team like the Irish.
Games aren’t decided on prediction models and right now stats like the FPI serve more of an entertainment purpose with all sports still shut down, but before anyone completely discredits them, remember that in 2018, the same FPI favored Notre Dame in every regular-season game before the Irish went on a 12-0 run to the playoffs.