The Compu-Picks 2013 Preview contains a number of analyses. One section of the preview specifically deals with negative projections for teams Compu-Picks is materially more pessimistic on than popular perception, and is entitled "Bad News". The counterpart, highlights of team Compu-Picks is more optimistic on than popular perception, will be called "Good News" and will be provided
One key point that I've written about is that close game success does not repeat. If you have an amazing record in close games in one year, you're going to have a worse close game record next year, and vice-versa. And needless to say, Notre Dame had an amazing close game record in 2012, going 2-0 in overtime, 3-0 in games decided by 3 points or less, and 5-0 in games decided by 7 points or less. So why in the world does Compu-Picks like them so much in 2013 that they're rated #3 in the country, when no other major source has them in the top 5? And why does Compu-Picks peg them at about 10 wins when the books have hung win totals of 8.5?
Let's start with Notre Dame's rating. One thing that definitely doesn't help the Irish is returning production on offense. They've got an average amount of offensive line starts returning, but their passing and running yards have been absolutley gutted. And while the defensive losses are a bit on the light side, they aren't massively light. Moreover, their 2012 season was a pretty big outlier, since they were much worse in 2010 and 2011 and massively worse the three years prior.
So what is actually driving Notre Dame's elite ranking?
For starters, they have pretty elite recruiting, including a fantastic 2013 class. Any program that recruits elite talent has a chance to make noise, and Notre Dame certainly qualifies. They have a greater percent of lettermen returning than usual, their highest since before 2009. They had a better turnover margin than usual in 2012, but unlike most other elite programs, it's still a single digit margin, which means there's a lot of room to potentially improve it instead of "there's nowhere to go but down." And their coach continues to settle in and establish a high level of play.
Moreover, even if it was an outlier, Notre Dame still was really good in 2012, so to rate them as not being elite in 2013, you'd need a pretty good reason. And in this case, that reason doesn't really exist.
It's also worth remembering that almost everyone else has key warts or question marks as well. Oregon has a new coach, the heaviest draft losses by far in years, and a major outlier turnover margin in 2012. Georgia has a major rebuilding job on defense, and their recruiting levels have declined. Florida State lost twice as much to the draft as they had since before 2007, and haven't been elite in years. Texas A&M had a major outlier 2012 season as a whole and suffered their heaviest draft losses by far in years. And those are the next four teams rated behind Notre Dame by Compu-Picks.
And in terms of Notre Dame's projected record, their schedule really doesn't look that nasty. It's rated 21st in the country, which is no gimme, but at the same time, there's a pretty good number of very winnable games. Temple, Purdue, Air Force, Navy, Pitt and BYU all seem like near-lock wins, so that's potentially 6-0 to start with. Compu-Picks only rates two of their opponents in the top 25, Michigan and USC, which means that there aren't a huge number of really nasty games.
And yes, a big part of this win projection is that Compu-Picks rates Oklahoma and especially Stanford much lower than most. To Compu-Picks, those are very winnable games for a potentially elite team, as opposed to major hurdles that might suggest likely losses.
All in all, the numbers strongly suggest that Notre Dame will be continue to be an elite football team in 2013. Will that mean a repeat 12-0? Very likely not, but double digit wins seem pretty likely. They shouldn't win all the close games again this year, but they should still end up with a bunch of W's on the schedule. This should be a surprisingly pleasant season in South Bend, even if that does seem weird to say about a team that just went 12-0 and made an appearance in the national championship game.