Everyone knows that both Notre Dame and Alabama have two of the highest rated Scoring Defenses in the Country. In fact, they're #1 and #2, respectively. Of course, that ranking is based upon the number of points allowed per game. While that is a very important stat, I place a bit more weight on Plays Per Point or - for easier reading - Plays Per 10 Points. This is the number of plays the defense is forcing their opposing offenses to run in order to score 10 points, on average. Interestingly enough, Notre Dame and Alabama again rank #1 and #2, respectively, in this stat. Alabama is forcing its opposing offensive units to average 56.26 plays to get 10 points while Notre Dame is forcing a very impressive 61.05 plays. The third ranked team in this stat, Florida, is requiring 50.90 plays - and those three teams are the only teams that top 50 plays. In fact, there are only 20 teams in the Country averaging forcing more than 35 plays for their opponents to net 10 points. Of course, that's just raw stats. What about the differentials?
I have several different categories that I like to break (or split, hence the term "splits") teams and units into for comparisons. One of my favorites is the Top 5 category, especially relating to unit performance. In this case, I took the Top 5 Scoring Defenses (overall - per game) that each offense faced and used those aggregate numbers to form the differentials for those units. Likewise, I also used Top 5 Scoring Offenses, Top 5 Scoring Efficient (Plays Per Point) Offenses & Defenses, Top 5 Total (Total Yards) Offenses & Defenses, Top 5 Efficient (Yards Per Play) Offenses & Defenses, and Top 5 Driving Efficient (Drives Per 10 Points) Offenses & Defenses. I won't overload the post with all of the stats from all of those breakdowns - I'll give a summary in a minute - but here are some of the interesting notes from those first four categories, the Top 5 Scoring / Scoring Efficient Offenses & Defenses...
Versus the Top 5 Scoring Defenses & Offenses They Played Alabama Offense
Notre Dame Offense Alabama Defense Notre Dame Defense Points_Per_Game
31.2 19.8 18.2 9.6 Opponents' Avg.
19.9 17.4 35.7 32.8 Differential 11.3 2.4 -17.5 -23.2 Plays Per 10 Points
22 31 34 65 Opponents' Avg.
35 38 19 21 Differential -13 -7 15 44 TD_Scoring_Percentage 80.0% 50.0% 80.0% 25.0% Opponents' Avg.
69.7% 59.9% 81.9% 77.5% Differential 10.3% -9.9% -1.9% -52.5%
As you can see, Alabama's Offense performed significantly better than Notre Dame's Offense when facing each of their 5 toughest opponents to score against. Conversely, Notre Dame's Defense performed noticeably better than Alabama's Defense did when facing each of their 5 toughest opponents to keep from scoring. One thing you'll notice is that Bama's Offense far out-shined Notre Dame's Offense when facing the best teams they faced. Granted, the Defenses Notre Dame faced were allowing slightly fewer points per game and requiring slightly more plays per 10 points than the ones Bama faced but that difference is much, much smaller than the difference in the performance between those two units. Something you won't notice - since it isn't there, mostly because it won't fit - is that the combined Scoring Defense differential ratings for the Defenses that Alabama faced in this grouping is noticeably better than for the ones the Notre Dame faced.
A third thing you'll notice is that Notre Dame's Defense performed much better than Alabama's defense. What you may not notice, though, is that their numbers are a little erratic. For one, the best offense they faced was USC at the end of the year which had several key injuries including along the Offensive Line and at Quarterback, starting a Freshman backup getting his first start against the #1 team in the country. The really weird thing, though, is that the three worst games, from a points allowed standpoint, were against teams not in their Top 5 Scoring Offenses category. That can mean - or be due to - several things. As alluded to before, it could have a fair bit to do with luck, e.g. catching teams without their best offensive weapons. It could mean that Notre Dame is very "streaky" on Defense, i.e. when they're on they're very on and when they're not on they're more average. It could also mean that their Defense has a knack for "coming to play" against the better offenses while slacking off a bit in other games.
The biggest factor that you don't see in that little chart, though, is all about the match-ups. Neither offense has faced a defense ranked as highly as the other team's defense - because there aren't any. Both teams have faced 5 defenses ranked in the Top 30 in what I call the Total Scoring Defense Rating - a combination of the points per game, plays per 10 points, drives per 10 points, and TD percentage raw stats and differentials. Against those teams, Alabama's Offense measured up much better than Notre Dame's Offense. The Defenses, though, present an interesting twist. Alabama's Defense has faced 5 Offenses ranked in the Top 35 in the Total Scoring Offense Rating, with two of those in the Top 10. Notre Dame's Defense has only faced 2 Offenses ranked in the Top 35 in the Total Scoring Offense Rating and none in the Top 20. Notre Dame has, though, faced 7 Offenses in the Top 60 - the same number as Alabama. This category becomes very interesting, though, when you look at where each team's offense ranks.
Notre Dame's offense currently comes in at 82nd in the Country. While Notre Dame's offense ranks a very respectable 32nd in driving efficiency, they are 73rd in plays per 10 points, 75th in points per game, 84th in scoring differentials, and 119th in TD percentage. That ranking means that Alabama's Defense has faced 8 offenses that are more difficult to prevent from scoring than Notre Dame's Offense.
The number of offenses that Notre Dame's Defense has faced that are ranked higher than the Crimson Tide's Offense?
Because, which will be a surprise to some, the strength of this year's Crimson Tide team is actually the Offense, not the Defense.
The Crimson Tide Offense comes in at #2 in the Total Scoring Offense Rating, trailing only Oregon. While Alabama is only 15th in the Country in Points Per Game and 37th in TD percentage, the Crimson Tide is 3rd in Plays per 10 points, 2nd in driving efficiency, and 1st in scoring differentials.
So, when you look at the raw stats and rankings for the Scoring Offenses and Defenses of Alabama and Notre Dame, there are four aspects to consider when weighing those numbers:
1) Alabama's Offense hasn't faced any Defenses better than Notre Dame's but has faced 4 Defenses in the same "zip code", i.e. within 25 spots, and has performed exceptionally well against those teams.
2) Notre Dame's Offense hasn't faced any Defenses better than Alabama's but has also faced 4 Defenses in the same "zip code", i.e. within 25 spots, and has performed exceptionally well against those teams.
3) Alabama's Defense has faced 8 Offenses that are better than Notre Dame's and has performed very well against those teams.
4) Notre Dame's Defense has faced 0, yes Zero, Offenses better than Alabama's and only faced 1 Defense in the same "zip code" and, while they performed very well against that Offense, that Offense was missing their starting Quarterback.
And, just for kicks, if you combine all of the Total Scoring Offense & Defense ratings and differentials and apply them to the Alabama - Notre Dame unit match-ups, the numbers add up to a predicted score of:
Notre Dame 10