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.