Blue and Gold Illustrated

Preseason 2016

Blue & Gold Illustrated: America's Foremost Authority on Notre Dame Football

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Page 58 of 99 PRESEASON 2016 59 C hampionship college football teams consistently do two things very well — they create advantages and seize on those op- portunities to win games. The national championship game at the conclusion of the 2015 season provided a perfect example of this. Alabama and Clemson were dead- locked at 24 points apiece in the fourth quarter after a 33-yard field goal by the Crimson Tide. Alabama gambled on the ensuing kickoff, executing a perfect onside kick recovery. Two plays later, the Crimson Tide were in the end zone with a 31-24 lead, and they added two more touchdowns (including a 95-yard kickoff return) to fend off Clemson's late rally and win the na- tional title. Alabama's offensive possessions began, on average, from the Crimson Tide's own 28-yard line in that game. Clemson's offensive possessions be- gan from its own 29-yard line. Had Alabama kicked off in a more traditional manner at that critical moment in the fourth quarter instead of attempting the onside kick, or if the execution of the onside attempt had failed, Clemson would have had a significant starting field position advantage and an equal number of offensive possessions. Instead, Alabama grabbed an ex- tra offensive drive and evened out the starting field position battle in one play. In a game that featured two evenly matched teams, creating a key possession opportunity made all the difference. One of the stats I track is net starting field position, the dif- ference between a team's aver- age starting field position and that of its opponents. Over the course of a season, this stat can identify the teams that leverage field position advantages and ones that play at a deficit. Creating and seizing field po- sition advantages is an area in which Notre Dame has strug- gled in the Brian Kelly era, though the Irish did show some improvement in 2015. The Irish finished the season with a net field position value advantage of 29.4 points, an average of 2.3 points per game. The top 10 teams in terms of net field position value advantage last year each generated a per game advantage of more than 3.0 points per game. That group — which in- cluded the Crimson Tide — had a combined 102-28 (.785) record in 2015. Alabama has been the top program in the land for the better part of the last decade and has consistently cre- ated these kinds of field position ad- vantages. But they're not alone. The other teams that have enjoyed elite success since 2010 have leveraged field position to their advantage as well. Notre Dame is one of 16 teams that have had a winning percentage of at least .700 over the last six seasons. The Irish have generated the third- worst net field position rate among that group (see chart). On average, this group of 16 teams created a per game yardage advan- tage of 36.3 yards — four times the average advantage created by Notre Dame in the same span. The six teams at the top of the list that each have at least an .800 Football Bowl Subdivision winning percentage over the last six years have had an average field position advantage of almost 45 yards per game in that span, 36 yards per game better than the Irish. What kind of a difference can 36 yards per game make? Over the course of a season, that adds up to al- most 500 yards of "hidden yardage" — a combination of yards the offense doesn't have to cover to get into scor- ing range and yards of cushion the defense can surrender before having any impact on the scoreboard. An average offense against an av- erage defense will score 3.4 points per drive on a possession that starts 36 yards from the end zone. If the Irish can generate a starting field position advantage like the nation's elite teams do, it will likely result in an extra score of some kind per game, and could be a difference maker in a run for the playoff. ✦ IRISH ANALYTICS BRIAN FREMEAU Brian Fremeau of ESPN/Football Outsiders has been a statistical analyst at Blue & Gold Illustrated since January 2015. He can be reached at The Field Position Advantage The Irish did a better job creating and seizing field position advantages in 2015, but still have room for improvement if they want to join the nation's elite. PHOTO BY BILL PANZICA FIELD POSITION ADVANTAGE YARDS PER GAME IN FBS CONTESTS FROM 2010‑15 FOR TEAMS WITH .700 WINNING PERCENTAGE OR BETTER IN THE SPAN FPA FBS Rk. Team YPG Record (Win%) 1. Ohio State 63.3 67-12 (.848) 2. TCU 63.1 52-19 (.732) 3. Boise State 53.3 62-15 (.805) 4. LSU 49.1 56-17 (.767) 5. Alabama 47.8 66-10 (.868) 6. Oklahoma State 47.7 54-20 (.730) 7. Oklahoma 42.4 61-17 (.782) 8. Stanford 40.2 64-15 (.810) 9. Wisconsin 39.0 55-21 (.724) 10. Florida State 35.9 61-14 (.813) 11. Michigan State 35.3 61-16 (.792) 12. Oregon 27.1 63-12 (.840) 13. Northern Illinois 22.5 59-19 (.756) 14. Notre Dame 9.0 55-23 (.705) 15. Baylor 3.3 51-21 (.708) 16. Clemson 2.0 55-19 (.743)

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