The Big Picture

Now that the season has reached its halfway point, it's a good time to take a step back and evaluate where we are.

Notre Dame is a very fine football team and one that's dramatically improved from last year. It's probably not a national championship caliber team, but it's at the very least a New Year's Day bowl caliber team.

Let's look at this team a little more closely.

ND currently averages 36 points per game and allows 25.7 points per contest. ND's total scoring margin thus far is 62 points, which projects to a margin of 124 by season's end (assuming equal difficulty of the back half of the schedule – more on that in a minute). ND has not surpassed + 86 in scoring margin since Holtz left. Davie's 1998 team was + 80, his 2000 team was + 86 and Willingham's 2002 team was + 73. So getting to the right side of + 100 would be a very good thing indeed.

Against this group of teams last year (we played all six last year) ND was outscored by about 1 point per game, so this ND team is roughly two touchdowns per game better than last year's edition. Last year ND was 3-3 against this group of teams and that included two losses by 25 or more points. This year ND is 4-2 and the losses were by 3 points each--one game decided in overtime and the other on the last play of the game.

ND's first six opponents have been a tough group in the aggregate. In non-ND games those teams have earned a record of 15-10, and their opponents' opponents are 103-80.

On offense, ND's opponents in their other games have scored 33.5 points and gained 451 yards on offense. ND's defense therefore holds teams 7.8 under their scoring average and to 20 fewer yards than average.

On defense, ND's opponents have allowed 23.6 points and 378 yards. So, ND's offense scores 12.4 more points than average against the teams they've played and gains 112 more yards.

In other words, ND is about 20 points per game and 132 yards per game stronger than the average Division I-A team. Given that last year's ND team came very close to being the average team, that's a huge step forward.

ND's five remaining opponents (there's no way to know who the bowl opponent will be, of course) are not as impressive as a group than the six who ND has played so far. On offense, ND's remaining opponents average 22.9 points and 352 yards per game. Assuming, then that ND's defense continues to play at the same level it has, those remaining opponents should average about 15 points per game and 332 yards of offense.

On defense, ND's remaining opponents are almost identical to the prior six. ND's opponents allow 24.3 points per game and give up 363 yards. Assuming that ND's offense continues to play at the same level, it should average about 37 points per game and 475 yards of offense.

Of course the level at which teams play in any given week varies considerably, which is the reason that mental preparation and focus will be essential for this Irish team if it is to keep its hopes of playing in a significant bowl game alive.


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