Tuesday, October 30, 2007

A Factor... | by Jay

But not the factor, as Charlie said. Yes, we do have a young team this year. And no, it's not the only reason we're terrible. But just how young are these guys? And how do they stack up against Irish teams of yore? We were curious.

Armed with this question, our friend Dave went and looked up all the depth charts for Irish teams going back to '64 (Ara's first year). He also tabulated how much experience each player had, based on appearances in the two-deeps from previous years. We put it all together in a spreadsheet, added some averages and calculations, and published it right here. Take a gander.

ND Depth Charts, 1964-2007

Page 1 is the summary & rankings; page 2 contains the detailed depth charts. Here's how to read it.

• On the Depth Chart Detail (page 2), we've got all the players listed, their class year at the time, and then a measurement of their experience. We gave 1 point for each year they had previously been a starter, and a half-point for each year they appeared on the second string. For example, take Trevor Laws this year. He was a second stringer in '04 (.5 points), and started in '05 and '06 (2 points), so he's got an experience tally of 2.5. (We haven't really incorporated the experience tally into any of the averages, but it's nice to see when you're comparing year-to-year.)

• The Summary (page 1) shows the totals for each year. "1st String" is the average of the starters' class years. "Exp" is the experience total. "2nd String" is the average for the second stringers. Each "Rank" column ranks the stat from 1-44 -- the total number of years in the table. A rank of "1" would be the lowest average player year or the least amount of experience; a "44" would represent the oldest average player year or the most amount of experience.

(example - go to the link above for the full table)

Year 1st String Rank Exp Rank 2nd String Rank 1st String Rank Exp Rank 2nd String Rank
1964 3.45 37 8.5 7 3.27 42 2.82 7 6 1 2.91 39
2007 2.45 1 7.5 4 1.73 1 2.91 10 13.5 23 2.45 24

Off to the right on the summary page, we've averaged the offense & defense for each year, and ranked those, too.

Just 1st - O & D
Rank 1st + 2nd - O & D
3.14 21 3.11 42
2.68 1 2.39 1

Feel free to copy & paste the data and run your own calculations; there are a lot of ways you could slice and dice this stuff. (For example, if someone wanted to try to weight the starting years by the experience number, we'd be interested in seeing that.) We tried to keep it simple, and yet still get a roughly accurate measurement of just how young or old a team was.

Also, keep in mind this table of data is quite imprecise -- the two-deeps represent just one lineup (the most common, hopefully) used for that particular year, but a whole slew of players might have been in the mix. Take '88 - Green is listed as the running back, but we know that Watters, Brooks, Culver, AJ, Banks, etc, all got carries out of that position. Lineups also may have shifted during a season due to injuries or position battles. Finally, fifth-year seniors aren't given any special consideration, and are treated as simply seniors. At best, this is a very rough study, but we did our best to represent the common sense-starting lineup each year. (Feel free to suggest amendments.)

So what can we conclude? One thing's pretty clear -- and you sort of figured this would be the case, but the research really reaffirms it -- the '07 squad is one of the youngest, if not the youngest Irish team to take the field going back over 40 years. While the defense ranks in the bottom quartile in terms of age, the novice Irish offense is the clear, #1 greenhorn on the list. No team has ever had such an inexperienced two-deep since Ara took over.

Apart from looking at the '07 squad, a few more interesting historical nuggets bubble up:

• The inexperience this year may play some part in explaining a 1-7 record, but as a counterexample, just look at 1988. The national champions that year were also one of the younger Irish teams to ever take the field, with an average offensive age of 2.55 and freshman and sophomores littering the depth chart. The key difference, of course, is that the '88 squad had experience where it mattered: at running back, tackle, linebacker, and the secondary -- not to mention a savvy quarterback who played the option offense like no other. And the youngsters who filled in the gaps -- Rocket, Derek Brown, Watters, Zorich, Lyght -- all turned out to be superstars.

• By contrast, Holtz's oldest collection of starters was also his first, in 1986, and they went 5-6 (although 5 of those 6 losses were by 5 points or less).

• Charlie has had a real pickle in the team experience department. The 2006 team was quite seasoned, but look at this year, and look at the depth of the 2005 team (12th youngest or so).

• In 1984, Gerry Faust had one of the most experienced offenses in ND history; with the exception of new QB Steve Beuerlein, just about everybody else was a returning starter. Ranked #8 to start the year, he promptly lost to unranked Purdue in the opener, and turned in a 7-5 season.

The image “http://www.helmethut.com/Redskins/Theismann6.jpg” cannot be displayed, because it contains errors.• Joe Theismann had a tremendous impact on Notre Dame football -- both as a starting quarterback, and by his absence. The 1970 team with Theismann came within a whisker of winning a National Championship (a team which still holds the school record for yards per game at 510), although he was the only player from the squad to go on to play more than one season in the NFL. The next year, with a veteran team -- but with Theismann gone -- the Irish were picked by Sports Illustrated to win the NC. But the 1971 team averaged almost 180 yards fewer per game (a dramatic drop-off), and scored 11 fewer points per game. Although they went 8-2, they lost badly to the only ranked team on their schedule (LSU, 28-8). They never found an adequate replacement for Theismann, shuttling between Bill Etter and Cliff Brown at quarterback. The graduation of a veteran quarterback can really set a team back, as 1971 showed.

And as 2007 is showing, too, come to think of it.

(Thanks again to Dave for all of his hard work in digging up this data.)