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Mailbag: Fact-checking & answering some reader comments

USC v Notre Dame

SOUTH BEND, IN - OCTOBER 20: women fans of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish dress in green paint cheer during the game against the University of Southern California Trojans at Notre Dame Stadium October 20, 2007 in South Bend, Indiana. USC defeated Notre Dame 38-0. (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)

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The mailbag is a mainstay of any sportswriter’s inventory these days. The readers do the hardest work for the writer, delivering an idea to write about. In that respect, it is just this side of lazy. Call it efficient.

It nonetheless serves a few purposes. A properly-executed mailbag answers pertinent questions, encourages reader engagement and corrects a few inaccurate facts. Mailbags were fact-checking before “fact-checking” became a piece of politics and punditry.

Focusing on answering questions and demonstrating that all those comments are noticed, let’s do the modern version of a mailbag: Let’s respond to comments left in the depths of “Inside the Irish” from the last few weeks. Editor’s Note: These comments were edited for brevity and clarity, but their content and context was not adjusted.

Rbmat: Two tight ends used effectively would be music to many ears. Force defenses to bring the safety down to respect the run … and take away the pressure from your young quarterback. Please, Douglas, tell me our new OC hates the spread.

I cannot tell you that, Rbmat. If anything, look for new offensive coordinator Chip Long to use athletic tight ends in a way that somewhat increases the spread offense. Take junior Alizé Mack, for instance. His athleticism should allow him to line up not only on the line but also in the slot or perhaps even out wide, forcing the defense to either cover him with a linebacker in open space or with an undersized defensive back.

Irish coach Brian Kelly has said Long will maintain an up-tempo offense. Matchup problems like Mack are best exploited in a spread environment.

That can still aid the run game. If Mack is lined up off the line in any manner and a linebacker remains with him in coverage, then one less linebacker is in the box keeping an eye on junior running back Josh Adams or whichever unproven back proves to be his stablemate.

To be clear, Mack is merely an example for these purposes. Who the tight end or two could be will begin to reveal itself March 8.

nudeman: No one will benefit more from a rejuvenated, overhauled strength and conditioning program than the offensive line. Unlike the defensive line, there is some real talent on the offensive line. ND’s offensive performance last year tailed off as the game progressed and I think the OL was just poorly conditioned. Do I recall correctly that they scored something like 22 points in the fourth quarter in the last games? That’s putrid.

That stat is correct, and certainly concerning, but there should be at least three notes added to it. One of those games was the 44-6 rout of Army. That was, in fact, the score entering the fourth quarter. Notre Dame did not need to fret about adding any points. Another of those was the 50-33 victory over Syracuse. The Irish led 47-27 entering the final frame. Again, no need to worry. Lastly, one of those eight games was played in a literal hurricane. Criticizing an offense for not scoring enough in those conditions falls somewhere in the category of missing the forest for the trees.

If looking at the other five games, the Irish scored a total of 125 points with 19 coming in the fourth quarter. Logically, one might expect about 25 percent of a team’s points to come in each quarter. (There are flaws to that logic, but it will hold well enough for this exercise.) In those five close, weather-appropriate games to close the 2016 season, Notre Dame scored 15.2 percent of its points in the fourth quarter. Should that number be higher? Yes. Is it abnormally low when factoring in the small sample size? Not necessarily.

ndnphx: Regarding that “win expectancy” stat: I tend to believe Kelly’s ND teams have underachieved in win expectancy every year but 2012. Is there a way to research previous years and see if that is the case? I’d wonder if it really is a matter of “luck and chance” or if a trend emerges.

Thanks to the good people over at, there is indeed a way to research previous years, and a trend does emerge. When Notre Dame wins nine or more games, luck and chance played a role in some of those victories. When the Irish lose five or more, luck and chance factored into some of those defeats. In other words, the exact trend one would expect to emerge, does emerge.

As a refresher, the “win expectancy” ndnphx references is second-order win totals, which reflect how many points a team should have scored and allowed based on offensive and defensive stats. In a season where seven losses come by one possession, a second-order win total higher than the actual win total should be expected.

The small sample size of a football season reduces the applicability of metrics like this. There is never a chance for things to balance out, and by the next season, the team’s makeup could be entirely different. Second-order win totals, however, can still present a broader view of a season, rather than focusing on each game’s one or two make-or-break, 50/50 plays.

2016 actual record: 4-8 – second-order record: 7.2-4.8
2015 actual record: 10-3 – second-order record: 10.0-3.0
2014 actual record: 8-5 – second-order record: 8.5-4.5
2013 actual record: 9-4 – second-order record: 7.8-5.2
2012 actual record: 12-1 – second-order record: 10.1-2.9
2011 actual record: 8-5 – second-order record: 8.1-4.9
2010 actual record: 8-5 – second-order record: 9.0-4.0

irishwilliamsport: I don’t know if it still holds true, but every five-star guy Nick Saban had at one point at Alabama turned into a first-round draft choice.

It never held true. Saban arrived in Tuscaloosa in time for the 2007 recruiting class. Among the 24 signees that February, none were five-star recruits according to The following year, Saban netted three: receiver Julio Jones, athlete Burton Scott and offensive lineman Tyler Love.

Jones went on to be the sixth-overall pick in 2011 and dominates opposing secondaries like no other threat currently in the NFL.

Scott transferred to South Alabama after two seasons in Saban’s program. In his senior year with the Jaguars, the safety made 84 tackles with one sack, intercepted two passes and forced two fumbles. He was not a first-round draft choice.

Love, a 6-foot-7, 285-pound recruit, graduated from Alabama with two championship rings and a year of eligibility remaining. He played in 14 games over his career. He was not a first-round draft choice.

The point here is not to criticize irishwilliamsport, but rather to make it clear not everything stated in the comments is accurate.

rocknek9: Irish coming to California twice in one year in 2018, I don’t know if I ever remember that. Both in SoCal. Douglas, could you research that?

Two of 2007’s three victories came in California: A 20-6 victory over UCLA in Pasadena on Oct. 6, and a 21-14 win against Stanford in Palo Alto on Nov. 24.

As for two games in southern California, I researched as far back as through 1989 so I could simply yet definitively say, it has not happened in my lifetime.

bjc378: So long as we’re talking dream scenarios for next season, how about Notre Dame wins its first six games, then comes out against a top-five USC in the green jerseys? Brian Kelly has yet to use them, and I’d like to see those again. Mr. Farmer, do you like the green jerseys or what? It’s time for you to take a side.

As long as all parties are properly attired and the colors are easily distinguishable, I have no opinion whatsoever about the color of any team’s jerseys.

It should be noted, Notre Dame has worn a shade of green six times under Kelly. Five of those came in Shamrock Series games (’10, ’11, ’13, ’15 and ’16), and the sixth was a throwback version worn at Michigan in 2011.

Sure, those are different than the green jerseys bjc378 presumably references, but those occasions may have diminished the want, motivation or need for Kelly to trot out that version of an alternative.

irish1993: Is it April 22 yet?

No, not yet. There are only 184 days until Sept. 2, though.

Now then, this posted at 4 p.m. ET on a Friday. You should know what to do.