How Fun was Notre Dame Football in 2021? The Data May Surprise You

Despite winning a lot of games this past season, the data shows the Irish weren't necessarily a lot of fun.

When we asked for questions for this week’s podcast, our friend Ryan, aka @ndtex, who is enjoying Notre Dame blogging retired life from Her Loyal Sons, shared a tweet that attempted to use a data-driven approach to see which teams were the most fun in 2021. Perhaps surprising to some, the data showed that Notre Dame wasn’t very fun despite winning a lot.

If you’re looking at this and trying to interpret it, the x-axis plots winning percentage while the y-axis attempts to plot a “fun index.” Notre Dame ranks high in winning percentage because of its 11-2 record, but its fun index score ranks them right around an “average amount of fun” compared to every other team in college football.

Winning is always more fun than losing, but when you think back to the 2021 season, that feels about right for Notre Dame football. Before November, Notre Dame football delivered more anxiety-producing moments than fun ones. So let’s look back a week to week on how much fun each game was.

  • Florida State – Started really fun before turning really not fun by the 4th quarter and required double overtime.
  • Toledo – What should have been a fun game required a last-minute touchdown drive to beat a MAC team. Not very fun.
  • Purdue – A reasonably comfortable win in the end that was close for most of the game. I don’t think too many people would call it a fun game.
  • Wisconsin – For three quarters, this game wasn’t very fun. Then the fourth quarter happened and it became pretty damn fun.
  • CIncinnati – Did any Notre Dame fan have any fun during this game? Maybe for the first three minutes before Jack Coan’s inexplibible INT in the endzone? After that? Nada.
  • Virginia Tech – Mostly a frustrating game that was fun for about four minutes in the end.
  • USC – A good win over the Trojans but Notre Dame scored four touchdowns and the longest one was from four yards out. Again winning is always fun, but was the game itself really run?
  • North Carolina – This is when the Notre Dame offense really started to turn a corner – and also play some terrible defenses.
  • Navy – Notre Dame entered the 4th quarter up just 17-6 over a bad Navy team. Yeah, not too much fun.
  • Virginia – This was perhaps the most boring 20+ victory I can remember for Notre Dame in a while.
  • Georgia Tech – This was maybe the most fun Notre Dame in recent memory. Everything worked. Notre Dame had a lot of explosive plays. Georgia Tech stank. Fun was had by all. Well, not by GT fans, but by all Notre Dame fans.
  • Stanford – Another fun game.
  • Oklahoma State – Probably depends on who you ask, but Notre Dame did have a lot of explosive plays early. Still, no Notre Dame fan would call this one fun.

So when you look back at it, this silly stat is actually pretty accurate for Notre Dame in 2021. The Irish won a lot of games, but for most of the year, they won ugly. Having a leaky offensive line limited what Notre Dame could do offensively for much of the year, limiting “fun” (aka explosive) plays.

It would be interesting to see this little algorithm run for previous seasons because in a lot of ways, 2021 was a typical Brian Kelly season. Notre Dame won a lot, but they weren’t necessarily fun. Kelly was criticized for years for not keeping his foot on the gas more, and his inability to produce elite quarterbacks regularly is one of the reasons the Irish were rarely, if ever, considered to be elite offensively during his tenure.

Will Notre Dame be more “fun” in 2022? Notre Dame may be more fun while potentially winning fewer games. With Tyler Buchner, Chris Tyree, Lorenzo Styles, Michael Mayer, Logan Diggs, and Braden Lenzy, Notre Dame has a lot of potentially explosive players. The real key, though, is the offensive line. Notre Dame returns almost everyone and has upgraded its OL coaching substantially with Harry Hiestand. That should make for a much more explosive offense that provides more fun. However, with a first-time head coach and contests versus Ohio State and Clemson, the schedule could mean few wins in the regular season.

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11 Comments

    1. SEC is terrible, ND would wipe the floor with all of ’em…yadda, yadda, yadda…
      Put dwon the bottle and go sleep in your van, Uncle Rico.

  1. You guys wanted Coach Kelly’s program turned around. I sure hope that works out for you all, I really do.
    BGC 77 82

    1. While you wanted what? A few more years of half-assed, embarrassing boolshi+ ?

      “A win is a win”….your personal standard of excellence.

  2. “Kelly could have sleepwalking thru
    2 losses in September”…well David, anything is possible I suppose, but only one of those possibilities is reality, which you seem to be allergic to.
    Wins are wins, brother, and losses are losses. Not too complicated. Of course
    if you torture the data hard enough it will confess to anything.
    BGC 77 82

    1. Yes….”a win is a win”.
      The mantra that has sustained such unfulfilling, frustrating, unentertaining — sometimes even downrgiht embarrassing — ND football as a can’t-miss Fall Saturday waster for millions.

      They’re a Top 10 team, don’tcha know!

  3. The recent stats are pretty black and white: Coach Freeman simply needs to go 12-0 or 11-1 and we can say with confidence that he’s just as good as Kelly. It’s just that simple.
    BGC 77 82

    1. 1) Kelly could easily have sleepwalked his way to 2 losses last September, and 3+ for the year. Fuck him and his bloated record of inexcusable last second flukes.

      3) If Freeman grows into an effective, capable, confident HC by the end of just ONE season, some losses are a small price to pay. Pump the brakes, honey.

  4. RB Dye to SC. Not good for ND. It will not take Riley long to return SC back to prominence. The days of great talent and poor coaching at SC may have ended. And Riley is packing this year’s team with quality transfers.
    When discussing tough games, I seldom see BYU and SC included, both on the road, as difficult games in ’22. And will ND lapse back into losing one game per year that they shouldn’t like throughout most of the Kelly earlier years? More doubt than certainty going into ’22. At least ND fans won’t have to rely on Kelly for them to win the big games.

    1. You got the scoop right here at UHND: Riley ran off to USC and the PAC12 because “he didn’t want to face the much stiffer SEC competition”.

      If I were to predict which program is now instantly back in the hunt, it would be USC.
      USC is going to be more than ready for ND next year.
      And the smug UHND assessment of Riley might prove hard to live down.

  5. How can this be? In 2021, ND was a Top 10 team !?
    I kid, I kid….

    Dennis Dodd has an interesting article out today….he suggests that the current path may lead to a formal “employer-employee” relationship betwen football players and schools.

    So …a really good job, right out of high school ! 1950s America ! MAGA!

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