Hot Reads: A Less Optimistic Look at 2019 Nebraska Football
Photo Credit: John S. Peterson

Hot Reads: A Less Optimistic Look at 2019 Nebraska Football

June 17, 2019

If you don't read Bill Connelly's team-by-team previews for SB Nation, you definitely should. They're obsessively comprehensive, smart, often funny and roll out on a dependable schedule.

These previews start with the worst team in the worst conference (per Connelly's S&P+ rankings), and go from worst to first in each conference before moving on to the next one. I only mention that because we're getting close to Big Ten time. All of the G5 conferences are in the books as are the ACC and Pac-12, so in the next few weeks you'll likely start to see the Big Ten previews.

But you can already see the projected win totals and game-by-game win probabilities for the Big Ten. Connelly puts all of his preview data online, so while we're waiting for the previews we can look at some of the ingredients going into them. For Nebraska fans who have gotten used to seeing the Huskers among the picks to win the division this offseason, S&P+ isn't quite as kind.

So far this offseason, I've tried to project the spread for each Nebraska game using the early season FPI rankings, use those projected spreads to come up with individual win probabilities and then sum those win probabilities to arrive at a projected win total.

With the release of this data, we have those game-by-game win probabilities and projected win totals for all of the Big Ten based on the S&P+ rankings. Here's Nebraska's schedule with the percent change of win according to S&P+ alongside my guess at what FPI might look like.

S. Alabama 99% 96%
at Colorado 65% 55%
N. Illinois 96% 71%
at Illinois 75% 68%
Ohio State 39% 19%
Northwestern 73% 61%
at Minnesota 38% 38%
Indiana 66% 56%
at Purdue 65% 50%
Wisconsin 50% 26%
at Maryland 65% 55%
Iowa 50% 42%

And here, using those S&P+ win probabilities, are the projected win totals for the teams in the Big Ten West . . .

Wisconsin 9.1
Iowa 7.7
Minnesota 7.5
Nebraska 6.4
Northwestern 5.5
Purdue 5.4
Illinois 4.7

. . . and the Big Ten East.

Ohio St 9.8
Michigan 9.0
Penn St 8.8
Michigan St 7.4
Indiana 6.7
Maryland 4.9
Rutgers 2.6

S&P+ isn't projecting a huge leap forward for Nebraska in Year 2. The Huskers finished 49th in those rankings last year and are projected at 45th this year. The offense, despite the loss of its top receiver and running back, is expected to improve slightly (from 42nd to 35th in Offensive S&P+), but the defense, where five of the six top tacklers are gone, is predicted to get a little bit worse (from 55th to 64th in Defensive S&P+).That, plus the rankings for all of the teams on Nebraska's schedule, leaves S&P+ at 6.4 projected wins for Nebraska. Based on my projection of FPI, which is a little higher on Nebraska and lower on Wisconsin and Ohio State than S&P+, that ranking produced 7.85 projected wins for the Huskers.

Prepare yourself, when it's time for Connelly’s Husker preview it may not be quite as rosy as you've become accustomed to this offseason. But one of the things I like about this S&P+ data is that, while 6.4 wins might be the most likely outcome based on its rankings, a range is also provided. If Nebraska is seven points per game better than its current prediction that would get it to 8.0 projected wins (which might still seem low for those most optimistic Husker fans), and if it's a touchdown worse that puts the Huskers at 4.7 projected wins.

Perhaps neither end of the range is what most Husker fans are expecting, but that’s probably also why it’s worth stopping and considering.

The Grab Bag

  • The Hail Varsity 2019 Husker Football Yearbook is off to press. You can get a look at the cover here and a preview of what’s inside here.
  • Recruiting analyst Greg Smith caught up with top 2021 target Teddy Prochazka to talk about the Huskers’ Pipeline camp. (Premium)
  • Derek Peterson offers a proposal to improve the College Football Playoff.
  • Jacob Padilla takes an early look ahead at Nebraska volleyball as the Huskers departed for their Asia trip over the weekend.

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