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7.11 - Irrational Exuberance?

So Notre Dame is a co-favorite with Ohio State to win the national championship, Brady Quinn is the Heisman favorite and Notre Dame grads are getting shut out of the ticket lottery since no one can remember when.

High times for ND football.

And about time.

We should have these expectations... every year. Every year Notre Dame should have a shot at the title. But even now, it's only a shot and a long one.

If the 5-1 Vegas odds are accurate they mean that Notre Dame has a 17% chance of winning the whole enchilada (or nacho grande in this case.) Understand that number's influenced by heavy betting on the Irish fueled by hype and the lack of a dominant team. Even TSN's Tom Dienhart has climbed on the Weis wagon:

Brady Quinn is the best quarterback in the nation. … The schedule is friendly. … Charlie Weis is Einstein with a headset. There, I said it. I'm on board. Here's another Golden Dome-sized scoop of hype for your tailgate, Touchdown Jesus: ND will win the national title. I can't believe I just typed that. But it's true.

If you average all of the preseason football rags Notre Dame is the composite number one pick according to Phil Steele:

1. Notre Dame 115
Eight offensive starters, nine defensive starters return from Charlie Weis' 9-3 turnaround team. Pencil in QB Brady Quinn for Heisman. The Irish face most tough opponents at home, but Nov. 25 trip to Southern Cal is a big exception.

2. Ohio State 113
QB Troy Smith and WR Ted Ginn Jr. were stunning last year. Buckeyes won their last seven games as Smith took control and smeared Notre Dame in the Fiesta Bowl. Defense returns only two starters. Early trip to Texas on Sept. 9 will shape season.

(tie) 3. Southern Cal 104
The Trojans lose the last two Heisman winners, but, of four returning offensive starters, three are All-Americans. Defense should be better than last year's, which wasn't great. California and Notre Dame visit on back-to-back weeks in November.

(tie) 3. Texas 104
Vince Young is gone and the Longhorns don't have a quarterback who has taken a college snap. Running game and defense remain awesome. Tough schedule: Ohio State at home, Oklahoma in Dallas, and road trips to Nebraska and Texas Tech loom.

5. Oklahoma 102
RB Adrian Peterson is healed-up and nobody's better when he's well. No returning starters in OL, but solid sophomore QB Rhett Bomar and talented WRs return. Defense should be more Sooner-like with seven starters back. Sept. 16 game at Oregon could be a land mine, and don't forget Texas in Dallas on Oct. 7.

Which is nice.

It's also crap.

Preason prognosticators are generally clueless and as written previously here put an inordinate amount of focus on skill position players. Return a good QB and WR and Street and AthLindys Sporting Illustrated will rank your team high too -- especially if you're Notre Dame and can sell magazines.

The truth is that the odds are still long, probably longer than the real odds indicate. Notre Dame will likely be favored in all of its games (save SoCal,) but that doesn't tell the whole story. You have to be substantially better than your opponents to run the table, not marginally better. Two touchdowns better or more.

Anything less and chance, officiating, injuries or a bad Shark hair day could cost you the game and the title. If Notre Dame is only a slight favorite to win two games, the reality is that the Irish are actually a dog to win them both. Extrapolate that same principle out over 12 games and the odds diminish fast.

Last year I predicted a 4-2 start just based on per game probablity. Playing a similar game with this year's schedule, Notre Dame looks like a two loss team. I really don't know the lines of the games, but let's guess at this breakdown.

S 02 @ Georgia Tech -7
S 23 @ Michigan St. -7
S 30 PURDUE -10
O 21 UCLA -7
O 28 @ Navy (Baltimore) -XXXXXI
N 11 @ Air Force -14
N 25 @ Southern Cal +3

Being kind, the Irish are probably a 90 % favorite to beat Air Force, North Carolina, Stanford and Purdue. I'll put Army and Navy at 100%. Keeping with the kindness, how about an 80% favorite to beat Georgia Tech, MSU and UCLA, 65% to beat Penn State and the skunkbears and a 40% "favorite" to beat Southern Cal.

Those are probably generous, but given that genorosity it still equates to just an 7% chance of running the table to the BCS championship game with a likely 50% shot in the title game. That puts ND's undefeated national title hopes at 4% on the optimistic side - or 1/25.

What could work in Notre Dame's favor this year is parity and that a one loss team could get into the title game. Let's add a 40% bump for that possibility, putting the real odds ND can take home the title at 6%.

All guesswork at this point, but even given a huge margin of error, 5-1 odds look like good ones for Cramer to SELL! SELL! SELL!

Why so down, Rock?

Not down, just being realistic. Notre Dame's coming in as a favorite this year not because the Irish look so powerful, but because there's a vacuum of dominance. There are probably 15 teams with a shot at the title this year if the games roll their way and the Irish are going to have to catch a card on the river to make this gutshot straight draw. You actually stand a better shot of hitting the gut shot on the river and about the same as hitting a gut shot straight flush on the river.

While the focus is on the defense improving, I think we'll know very soon if this team will be a national championship team by focusing on the non-stars. Whenever a team makes a championship run, it's because the non-star players have elevated their games past their old peformance boundaries.

That's what the Patriots did year in year out. In my mind, the harbinger of a National Championship won't be the play of Quinn, but Santucci, not Abiamiri, but Frome and not Zibby, but Richardson.

Our stars will be expected to perform better than they have in the past, but for a team to beat tho' the odds, especially this Irish team, it has to see an elevation of play across the board. You'll know we have a great team when Richardson makes two clutch picks or Frome plants Booty's Booty into the South Central turf.

In my mind, Stams and Pritchett were as much the reason for the 1988 title run as Tony Rice.

Notre Dame needs the Stams (plural) of 2006/2007 to demand a different level of play from themselves if the fightin' are going to beat the odds. What's clear is that there's a title for the taking this year. As Grand Pap used to say, no one gives you the bone (unless they're giving you the bone,) you gotta fight for it.


Anonymous Terry Fox said...

I'm with ya, Rock! Been a HUGE ND fan all my life but ND is not quite primed for a national title just yet, but they are learning how to win again, along with playing with discipline and confidence---both of which were sorely lacking pre-Chuck. What is clear is this: ND is once again making its presence felt in College Football; it's fans are hyped; the feeling is in the air that, win or lose, the Irish will be in the game! As for pre-season rankings, I say, don't rank anyone until 5-6 games have been played so that the pretenders can be separated from the contenders

9:34 AM  
Anonymous Irish4ever said...

The Rock rocks, as usual, but I have 2 nits to pick. First, the math about chances of running the table omits MSU game. Second, I believe Molinaro used up his eligibility a while back.

9:37 AM  
Anonymous NK said...

I thought Vegas odds predicted how the money was going to go - not necessarily how likely it is to happen? If that is true, it could prove your point on irrational exuberance - Irish fans are more likely to drink the kool aid.

11:03 AM  
Anonymous ndski said...

Your hypothetical odds are pretty good with one glaring exception: Penn State. They lost most of their team, including their QB and a dominant pass rusher. Only a 3 point favorite at that stage in the season is too low when practically the entire ND squad returns. The realistic spread should be ND by 8 or 9. If we were playing them later in the year or on the road, there would be good cause for being more cautious in setting the odds for this game.

One other point of contention: you seem to discount the impact of Weis on elevating the play of non-stars in his second year. Look at what he did with Zbikowski and the Shark -- they were undistinguished at the start of the season, but were on all-american teams by the end of the season. My prediction for players who will dramatically step up their games: John Carlson on offense and Ambrose Wooden on defense.

11:55 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

There is nothing more arrogant than someone classifying their opinion as "being realistic" while implying if you don't agree then you are not only wrong, but live in some fantasy world.

You are not 'being realistic" but rather just have a more pessimistic view of ND's chances.

Furthermore, your odds analysis is flawed because you can't just apply those odds to ND. Every team that has a chance for the MNC face the same odds (materially speaking). Thus, ND's chances, or odds as you state, are no more or less than the other top ten teams. So why in the heck should anyone project or put together a top 10 preseason poll?

Since ND has just a good a chance as any other top team, then it isn't "unrealistic" to project them number one.

One can easily make the argument, and still stay realistic, that NDs schedule this year is very favorable. Other than a road game at USC, ND SHOULD win every game they play. Can they be upset? Sure, but who can't? OSU, UT, USC, etc. can all be beat by an underdog. But if you tell me that ND need only beat UM at home with Carr as coach and USC on the road with all the new players they will be fielding, I like ND's chances. PSU will not be the PSU from last year.

Answer me this, why do all pessimist cry "I am just be realistic?" Your projection of 4-2 last year wasn't very realistic, just pessimistic.

Mark me down for ND to play for the MNC next year. Unfortunately, based on your logic, no one should project a MNC winner because the odds be too great and that person wouldn't be "realistic." So USC, ND, UT, OSU fans across the world should settle on a disappointing year because the odds are against them.

What fun is that? I can say comfortably that all pessimists, notwithstanding how realistic the believe themselves to be, are a boring bunch. Give me the believers any day. They are a lot more fun.

2:35 PM  
Anonymous IrishinAustin said...

Cries for a playoff will increase this season, after slacking a bit last year. A one loss champ is almost a certainty. Maybe the most important factor for contenders: date of loss. The loser of OSU/Texas can run the table and climb back into the title picture, maybe even prompting a title game rematch. The ND/USC loser doesn't have that luxury.

All hail Stams/Pritchett.

4:10 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

If they were a 9 to 1 favorite in all 12 games, there would still only be a little better than 25% chance of completing the season undefeated. It is a difficult task to win the National Championship.

6:33 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

what happened to the rest of this article about the ND's history regarding past national championships? That was a most interesting read!


10:39 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Even if ND doesn't win it all and even if they don't make it to a BCS game, I feel Quinn will still win the Heisman because he'll throw up the numbers and the schedule isn't a cake-walk.

But I do see a lot of similarity between this team and the '88 team. The previous season they went 5-7 or 5-6 but all their losses were close. During the off-season and the season, Holtz made some position changes, had a no-name kicker, and a questionable defense.

Weis hired a good defensive staff and I believe that they will strengthen the defense and get them ready. Even in the '88 season, they had some shaky starts and a tough road game against Michigan, but they pulled through. They even beat Navy that year 22-7. This season, we have more talent or rather more realized talent that the other coach couldn't capitalize on, solid recruiting class and a solid coaching staff. Some games may be ugly, some may be pretty, but I believe that ND will surprise many this season.

Also, like '88, you had freshmen and other underclassmen step up and make a name for themselves, for example, Ricky Watters, Raghib Ismail, etc. This season, I see Raeshon McNeil, James Aldridge, Sam Young, Konrad Reuland, and especially Toryan Smith and Morrice Richardson to make their mark this season. I have a feeling even George West will make a name for himself on the return team.

Let's just hope that Beano Cook keeps his predictions for ND to himself so we avoid the Ron Powlus curse.

12:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I can only hope you are right, my friend. I, however, wonder how the loss of Fitzpatrick doesn't seem to factor into your percentages. To me, the next PK and P will play as large a part in the success of our boys in 06 than Quinn and the defense.

7:15 PM  

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