Hot Reads: A Closer Look at Nebraska's 2018 FPI
Photo Credit: Aaron Babcock

Hot Reads: A Closer Look at Nebraska’s 2018 FPI

February 15, 2018

Like it or not, ESPN’s Football Power Index isn’t going away any time soon. In fact, it seems like the network is only pushing its in-house power ranking harder of late, taking a victory lap after a good year in 2017 and creating this video meant to explain the ingredients in the “secret sauce." It’s a helpful video, but more interesting is that it exists. Seems like an effort on ESPN’s part to actually help people understand a measure that isn’t going away.

I’m for that. I don’t know if FPI is better than any other set of power rankings, but it definitely hasn’t been worse than any of them lately. But it's the math-y method that people encounter most often because it’s the one that shows up on the networks most people tune in to for sports, it probably takes the most hits from disgruntled fans. That’s part of the game. (And probably the reason why that video is careful to explain probability in the most elementary way possible.)

As I briefly mentioned yesterday, ESPN released its first set of rankings for 2018. The rankings at this point are a measure of four factors: performance over the past four years (extra weight for last season), returning starters (extra weight for a QB), a returning head coach and the last four years of recruiting rankings. Nebraska doesn’t exactly sweep those categories. The Huskers have a pedestrian four-year run, a solid number of starters back but not a quarterback, the coach is new (I’d be interested to know if coaching ability is taken into account) and the recruiting rankings are basically Nebraska-range.

Stir that all up with ESPN’s specific numbers and you have the Huskers at No. 50 in these rankings. Last year when there was a local uproar over the 5.5 wins projection, I went back and found all of the preseason and final rankings for FPI back to 2014. (For some reason these aren’t readily available at Here’s Nebraska’s current ranking alongside the previous FPI rankings:

2018 4.0 (50)
2017 1.5 (58) -2.1 (70)
2016 12.9 (25) 7.0 (48)
2015 8.4 (42) 9.4 (39)
2014 8.3 (41) 13.2 (28)

So I guess we can start with this: Nebraska is perceived to be slightly stronger than it was at this point a year ago, despite the results of 2017, despite not having a starting quarterback and, as far as I know, without factoring in what everyone believes is a coaching upgrade. The offense (49th) and defense (63) start out about average, while special teams is projected to be pretty good (15th).

When FPI adds in projected wins and losses (last year this happened in April) it’ll be interesting to see how Nebraska’s schedule factors into things. My guess based on looking at comparable teams over the past four years is that the Huskers’ win total will be pretty similar to last year’s projection, so we might be having the same discussion about this we had last season. Gird yourself.

Just out of curiosity, I looked to see where UCF was in FPI in two years under Scott Frost. In 2016, the Knights started the season 100th and finished 73rd, the eighth-biggest jump that season. In 2017, UCF started at 65th and finished 15th, the second-biggest jump of the year (behind Purdue) and tied for the third-biggest since 2014.

Nebraska can only jump 49 spots in 2018, but let’s not get unreasonable here. Huskers fans will probably take any sort of improvement in year one.

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