Many people think the new college football season begins with the annual publication and delivery of Phil Steele’s College Football Preview. Among my group of college football fanatics, the Steele Preview is reverently referred to as The Steele Bible. According to the Steele site, publication and shipping are only about a month away as I write this – Christmas in June, my friends!
But for those of you Jonesing for a direct lifeline to the upcoming college football season, we have our old friend Bill Connelly at SB Nation (referred to as BC in this article) to slake our thirsty desires – check this link out – That’s right, BC does a write-up on all 130 FBS college football programs!
If you are familiar with Mr. Connelly and his rare abilities you are every bit as thrilled as I am to read each of these reviews, divvied out on a more or less daily basis until the blessed start of the new season. For those of you unfamiliar, I will try to guide you in the use and care of this absolute treasure trove of meaningful data. For my money, Bill Connelly is the King of College Football!
Below, we will consider the Notre Dame write-up published on the SB Nation website May 13, 2019. Not because I am a Domer fan (I’m not), but some of you are and the Irish have a fanbase strung out all over the Americas and, indeed, all over the globe. Hence, this is as much a public service announcement as it is education into how Connelly does his thing. So, here it is – 2019 Notre Dame Preview.
But, before we do that, let’s take a look at the overall structure of the content in this enormous body of work. Let’s go top to bottom, as all of the write-ups are laid out in similar, if not exact fashion…
For those of you who are not Notre Dame fans – or even if you are but want to jump to other previews – click on this link – Bill C’s 2019 130-Team Preview. As I noted, he puts up about one a day, Monday thru Friday, (even God rested on the seventh day, for those of you into that sort of thing). This link brings you to the finished write-ups posted to the site. He usually goes by conference (likewise the FBS Independents are grouped together, too), and the oldest write-ups will be toward the bottom of the page(s). This season BC started with MACtion – the Mid-America Conference – and Bowling Green (view 2019 Bowling Green Preview).
At the bottom of the 130-Team Preview page, you will note he began with some other important analyses, and you will find such write-ups, including a better way to rank returning production and his preliminary S&P+ Rankings.
For those of you familiar with handicapping college football, you know we here at the Educational Sports Betting Network use the S&P+ stats in our handicapping approach – here is a write-up on our approach in the Advanced Content section. This article was from the 2018 season, but the nuts and bolts and the approach will still be the same this season. Yet, we will use the current season data as soon as it is available.
Sharp Tip – For ease in navigation between BC write-ups, use the Back button in your browser.
Wow, that is already a bunch of information and we have only just begun…
You will also note, among the individual team write-ups, BC also does a write-up on the individual conferences. Here is the Mountain West write-up. I think most of this information is self-explanatory. However, from a betting perspective, notice he makes predictions based on his advanced statistics on team win totals, both Conference and Overall, broken down by Conference Division, found in the 2019 Projected Standings per S&P+ section of the write-up.
Sharp Tip – For those of you who like betting futures on such things, this is an excellent place to start. And this information is out early enough that you may find excellent line value, when BC’s predictions vary from your oddsmaker’s predictions! If your oddsmaker also offers proposition bets on individual players, BC gives you actionable information on that too!
Okay, back to the Fighting Irish… BC begins with a preamble, mentioning some recent history telling us how we essentially got to where we are today. In an adjacent box to the right, BC gives us his Five Key Points, a back-of-the-envelope quick analysis of the good and bad for the upcoming campaign. Throughout the synopsis, and throughout the write-up, BC provides links to stories that he references and you can follow those links for greater context.
Note, BC is making past comparisons to roughly estimate what it might be like this season. In this case, Connelly suggests “It’s increasingly hard to find satisfaction in being merely very good, though. And it’s probably going to be hard for the Irish to catch up [to Clemson] in any major way in 2019.”
Now comes the analysis…
He provides a five-year graph of S&P+ rankings, broken down into Overall, Offense and Defense. Note Overall, the Irish have been quite consistent, except the Defense in the 2016 campaign.
Sharp Tip – The graph of the Overall S&P+ rankings shows the Irish to be consistent, year-to-year, in its team abilities. Hence, we can surmise the 2019 campaign will likewise be consistent, with no major drop-offs, overall.
Between these two graphs, we get a helpful link to his Glossary. As all glossaries do, he provides his definitions of what is being measured.
Sharp Tip – You should spend some time getting to know these terms and definitions, as they are important and not used by other football statisticians, as he has developed much of this himself.
Next we get to the breakdown of the 2018 Offense. For those of you unfamiliar with this type of graph, BC calls it a Radar Graph. Note the concentric circles expanding out from the center. The farther out into the graph the various elements are – Passing, Efficiency, Rushing and Explosiveness, the better the team is in those areas being analyzed (and graphed).
Observe, further, that he has placed numbers within the graph from 121 to 1 for measurement of Success Rt+. Realistically, since he is doing write-ups on all 130 FBS teams, the innermost (worst) number would be 130. This graph tells us Passing was pretty good, Rushing wasn’t. Much of this, as BC notes and as you know if you paid attention last season, was because ND made a quarterback change, which made a tremendously positive difference for the passing game, and overall!
In the write-up, BC goes on to note which players have moved on and which players will be back, along with some fresh talent that may also make big contributions.
The same approach to analysis is given in the Defense Radar Graph. Just like the Offense Radar Graph, the more the lines move away from the center of the graph, the better the team is in those areas being measured. Compared to many graphs you will see for other teams, this one is pretty good, showing the Irish to be at least competent in most areas. Connelly notes:
“The pass defense was the strength (the Irish were eighth in both Passing and Passing Downs S&P+) and there’s no immediate reason to think that changes.”
Spend some time familiarizing yourself with these graphs and consider the information they are portraying. As we move into the season, and as games are played, these same areas will be evaluated statistically and we can tell if there is improvement or regression.
Special Teams are next, generally a discussion of where they were last year, who is departing and who remains. Last year’s Irish squad was ranked #45, and BC notes “special teams has rarely been an outright strength for [Notre Dame].”
Now we get to the good stuff! Well, all of this is great information, but for betting purposes, we get BC’s early season S&P+ analysis of how the Irish should fare in the 2019 campaign.
Okay, before you go running off to the sportsbook, let’s talk about something. The Fighting Irish’s schedule is published and shown above. You will see BC gives his projected Win Probabilities for each contest. In only two games, BC projects the Irish to be underdogs – at Georgia and at Michigan. The Irish play a 12 game regular season schedule, so that implies a record of 10 wins 2 losses. Yet, when you look at the table immediately above, the Projected Wins row shows 9.0. What’s up with that? Have a look at the 2018 Second-order wins (difference), which shows 10.3 and (1.7). We need to go back to the glossary and see what he is telling us about Second-order wins –
Using Postgame Win Expectancy numbers for the entire season, you get a pretty good idea for how many games a team could have expected to win. As I mentioned here, “[second-order wins] basically say that playing the way you did, against the opponents you played, you would usually end up with a record of X, and compares it to your actual record, Y. If one is too far from the other, you’re probably going to see some regression (or progression, as the case may be) to the mean.”
In the short-term, you can use second-order wins to gauge who may have been on the fortunate or unfortunate side of randomness for a given month, season, etc. Over the long-term, it can potentially be used to gauge perpetually underachieving or overachieving coaches.
It appears BC is suggesting that the Irish may have benefited from some randomness and playing a little above their ability. You will recall Notre Dame went undefeated in the regular season and, as an independent in football, did not play a conference tournament. The Second-order wins suggests the Irish benefited by almost two games (because you can’t play 1.7 games) in this regard. Hence, what I think he is telling us is that randomness and/or luck will probably regress to the mean.
Sharp Tip – If you can find a season win total on Notre Dame of 10.5, you should bet the Under. That is what these statistics are implying.
Final Sharp Tip – I will point out that Bill Connelly’s write-up on Notre Dame was published May 13, 2019 and this was the schedule as it was on that day. Usually, schedules do not change, but they can. In reality, however, early season contests can get rescheduled or cancelled, usually for weather-related reasons. Looking at this schedule, the Irish have little risk of that. However, it happens. Be aware of this when handicapping season win totals and the possibility of games getting cancelled and rescheduled for later in the season. In fact, sometimes a contest will get cancelled, but to fill out the schedule an entirely new opponent will be scheduled at a time late in the season, when both teams are available to play. My beloved Iowa State Cyclones had exactly this situation during the 2018 season. I held a season win ticket – over 6.5. The first contest of the season against the South Dakota State Jackrabbits was canceled due to thunderstorms. The Cyclones played a 12 game regular season, but finished against the Drake Bulldogs.
This is all to say – check with your sportsbook about whether or not you have action if a game is not played or a game gets rescheduled. I had a ticket on the Over 6.5 season wins and cashed it on the rescheduled game.
Be sure you know the rules at your sportsbook! You do not want to be like this guy – https://www.actionnetwork.com/horse-racing/kentucky-derby-exacta-trifecta-bad-beat-darren-rovell