Overrated: The Notre Dame Offense or the USC Defense?


The annual USC-Notre Dame matchup is still over a week away, and already the war of words has begun. USC fans are claiming that the Irish offense is overrated while Irish fans have shot back that it is the Trojan defense that is overrated.

More than likely the stats are overrated. Stats are wonderful for fantasy players. But on the field, where anything can and usually does happen, it’s all flesh and blood.

But if you are one of those who think that statistics will determine the outcome of this annual rivalry, here are a few to consider.

In the first five games, the current Trojan defense is on course to become the most dominant defensive squad in the Pete Carroll era.


2001 155.2 175.6 330.8 17.3

2002 83.2 201.8 284.9 18.5

2003 60.2 276.2 336.4 18.4

2004 79.4 199.9 279.3 13.0

2005 130.5 230.4 360.9 22.8

2006 91.1 204.8 295.8 15.2

2007 84.2 189.0 273.2 16.0

2008 87.4 134.3 221.8 9.0

2009 64.8 173.8 238.6 8.6

At this point, they are No. 1 among Pete Carroll teams in scoring defense and No. 2 in each of the other three categories. The Trojans rank No. 3 nationally in scoring defense and No. 5 in total defense and rushing defense, giving up a stingy 64.8 yards per game. They are 27th in pass defense.

Meanwhile, the Fighting Irish rank 96th in total defense and 58th in scoring defense. They are104th in passing defense and 67th in rushing defense.

But Irish fans quickly point out that Notre Dame has faced much tougher opponents. Notre Dame’s opponents rank of 33rd on the average in Total Offense, compared to USC’s opponents averaging 80th in Total Offense.

The point here is that USC has a higher defensive rank because they have played inferior offensive teams.

A no-brainer, right?

Well, not exactly. Take San Jose State, for example. They rank 120th nationally in Total Offense but 15th in Strength of Schedule. So, it would figure that they would have a more difficult time scoring against much tougher opponents.

If you look at strength of schedule for past opponents, USC’s opponents have an average schedule rank of 19 while Notre Dame’s opponents have an average schedule rank of 33.

The fact that USC has played weaker opponents by merely comparing their average rank in Total Offense doesn’t necessarily hold water when you consider the average Strength of Schedule.

Here, the point is that almost anyone can skew statistics to backup their point of view. Also, statistics don’t take into account key aspects such as injuries, field conditions and weather. While there are also statistics for penalties, they do not reveal how many were game changers or bad calls.

Not so on the playing field. All of these aspects figure into who wins and who loses.

In Total Offense, Notre Dame ranks 11th; USC 25th. In Scoring Offense, Notre Dame is 29th and USC 51st. In Passing Offense, the Irish rank ninth while USC ranks 55th. But in Rushing Offense, USC ranks 19th and Notre Dame 59th. In Passing Efficiency, Notre Dame is way up there at No. 2 in the nation while USC ranks 50th.

Obviously, the statistics don’t take into account that Matt Barkley did not play at all in the loss to Washington or that he has played the last two games with a shoulder injury.

If we look at Pass Efficiency Defense, USC is No. 3 in the nation while Notre Dame is 76th. Also, the Trojan defense has not had a TD pass thrown against it so far this season. Obviously, USC will present the best pass defense that Notre Dame has faced this year—according to statistics.

But that is not to say what will actually take place on the field next Saturday.

Another statistic to keep in mind, USC ranks second in Tackles For Loss at 9.8 per game. Notre Dame ranks 71st in Tackles for Loss Allowed at 5.8 per game.

So, those are the key statistics. Which do you think is overrated? Is it the Notre Dame offense or the USC defense?

Another important question: which do you think is underrated? Is it the Notre Dame defense or the USC offense?

Go ahead and weigh in with your thoughts and opinions. And check back for my next installment coming up shortly: JIMMY CLAUSEN VS. MATT BARKLEY.