Offense. USC and Notre Dame. Who's better?
Notre Dame 28, USC 24: The Trojans are much better on offense, while Notre Dame is much better on defense. The tipping point is the Fighting Irish playing at home under the lights.
And I got this in the mailbag:
Kevin from Springfield, Va., writes: I was hoping that you could explain to me how you keep a job with ESPN for posting such stupid, clearly uninformed statements as you did in your game prediction of Notre Dame vs USC, when you stated: "the Trojans are much better on offense, while Notre Dame is much better on Defense." I just had to laugh at how that because clearly you have done zero research. Notre Dame has the 29th ranked passing attack in the country at 273.5 yards per game vs the 20th ranked attack of USC at 297.3 yards per game. ND also has the 29th ranked rushing attack at 194 yds per game vs the 77th ranked attack of 133.5 per game by USC. Lastly, ND has the 36th ranked scoring offense at 32.3 ppg, whereas USC ranks 46th at 23.5 ppg. So let me get this straight, Notre Dame gains 37 more yards per game and scores 9 more points per game against a MUCH tougher schedule, but USC has the "much better" offense? I'd really appreciate an email explanation of how you can get away with making such careless, uninformed statements and keep your job. I certainly wish had the same luxury at my job. If there is a trick to how you can pull that off, please let me know.
Tai from Ashland, Ore., writes: In your prediction for the USC/Notre Dame game, you said that "The Trojans are much better on offense, while Notre Dame is much better on defense." Where are you getting the idea that USC is much better on offense, or even better at all, for that matter?Notre Dame averages 467 yards per game and 6.57 yards per play, while USC is at 431 and 6.17. Those aren't great metrics since they don't adjust for opponents, but then we have the Football Outsiders FEI ratings (one of the few computer ranking systems that distinguishes offense and defense) where Notre Dame ranks 6th on offense and USC ranks 29th. And in my own adjusted yards per play rankings, I actually show Notre Dame as the #1 offense in the country (with Oregon #2), while USC comes in at 28th.
Guess which writer I like better?
Then I also wrote this in my chat:
Chris (Raleigh, NC): Hey Ted, In your prediction, you say that "The Trojans are much better on offense". Wait, what? Can you explain that one? They have a very good passing game but they can't run the ball and Notre Dame's passing game isn't exactly a 70s wishbone team. Notre Dame's running game is averaging 194 yards a game with I think ranks about 29th nationally.
Ted Miller (3:35 PM): USC has a better offense because it's players are better and if you asked any coach "You can have Notre Dame's offense or USC's offense" they'd all pick USC. Notre Dame's numbers are skewed by scoring 58 against Air Force.
Tom (South Bend): LOL. ND's stats skewed by Air Force? Take out that game and ND's rushing average drops by 14.4 yards per game and passing and passing average by a massive 3.2 yards per game.
Ted Miller (3:55 PM): And yet you'd still pick USC's offense because... wait for it... wait for it... It's got better players! Look... you can fire away stats but that doesn't change the ignorance of not acknowledging USC is better on offense than ND. It's an absurd position to hold.
Er, no it's not.
And, yes, after the chat, I tried to figure out a way to better quantify my position. I couldn't. That was disappointing.
I imagined Kevin in his Springfield, Va., mansion, sitting by his infinity pool, surrounded by starlets, sipping a cold drink with an umbrella in it just handed to him by his servant cackling at my expense as he sent his crew of ninja assassins after me.
In other words, when I wrote "the Trojans are much better on offense" I was wrong.
In fact, I was also mostly wrong about "Notre Dame is much better on defense," seeing that the defensive numbers are also comparable, too, with the Irish again having a slight edge.
Therefore, we can definitely say that the first sentence of my Notre Dame-USC pick was, at best, carelessly constructed if not simply wrong. My bad.
So what's my excuse?
Well, couple of things. I watched at least parts of Notre Dame's first two games. And I saw parts of the Pittsburgh game, too. So my recollection was: "Neh." (It didn't help that I also watched Utah push Pittsburgh around last weekend).
Second, much of my take -- as it often is in the Pac-12 -- was based on QBs. USC is clearly better there with Matt Barkley, though Tommy Rees is certainly solid.
And I still stand by the gist of my unfortunately snarky chat response: I do believe most coaches, giving their choice of units, would pick the Trojans because they'd see more overall talent.
But there is no way, at this point of the season, to statistically quantify a position that the Trojans have a better offense than Notre Dame.
In other words, consider this an 800-word apology. Yes, what I typed was wrong. Sorry.