Science Proves That Notre Dame Was The Luckiest Team In The Country

Well, our creative interpretation of science, at least. Undefeated Ohio State had some pretty good fortune as well.

Winslow Townson, File / AP

Notre Dame and Ohio State both polished off undefeated regular seasons in style with big wins over rival schools. Both of those games were relatively close, a recurring theme for each squad on the year. Each had a few obviously lucky breaks go their way: Pitt missed an easy field goal that would’ve beaten Notre Dame, while Ohio State needed overtime to beat Purdue and edged woeful Indiana by only three points. And it turns out that the numbers bear out the suspicion that other than luck, there’s not much that separates them from other top-tier teams: Specifically, a user at Michigan fan site MGoBlog ran a statistical study which found out that Notre Dame and Ohio State finished the year as two of the nation’s top five luckiest teams. His calculations use a modified version of the Pythagorean system that might be familiar to baseball fans, which uses runs scored and allowed to figure out how sustainable a team’s success is; i.e., if your favorite team is allowing as many runs as they’re scoring but winning at a 65% clip, they’re probably getting lucky.

The findings: Ball State was technically the luckiest team in the nation. The Cardinals scored just 42 points more than they allowed over the course of the year — a number that would usually characterize a team close to .500 — but won a slew of close games to finish 9–3. Ohio State was the second-luckiest and Notre Dame fourth. Other teams with 2012 Notre Dame–level performance, the study found, won an average of 9.9 games, while teams that performed like 2012 Ohio State won 9.5. But lucky wins that land you an undefeated season have to be considered luckier to those that land you at 9–3 (or 8–4, like technically third-luckiest Mississippi State). And undefeated seasons that land you in the national title game must be worth more than undefeated seasons after which you don’t play a bowl game because your previous coach was a cheater. So, it’s safe to declare that Notre Dame was not only one of the best teams of 2012, but the luckiest. Just another example of the famous “Outperformance of Pythagorean Calculations of the Irish,” we suppose.

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