Hot Reads: The Best Probable Outcome?
Photo Credit: Aaron Babcock

Hot Reads: A Slightly Different Look at Nebraska’s Schedule

April 11, 2017

Athlon Sports has a new rundown of Nebraska’s schedule for 2017. It’s a broad-strokes approach, which is perfectly fine this time of year. If you haven’t spent any time considering Arkansas State or Northern Illinois, this will give you at least a start on the Huskers upcoming opponents.

In fact, I kind of like the one-fact (or sometimes two) approach, but let’s do it a little bit differently. Let’s use our old friend Pythagorean expectation. I know, it’s not a predictive measure, but I look at it every year as a way to understand if teams overachieved or underachieved the previous season based on points scored or allowed.

Here’s Nebraska’s schedule from that perspective:

Arkansas State (-0.31): The Red Wolves won eight games against an expectation of 8.31. Arkansas State returns 10 (or so) starters, one of the lower totals in the country, but was basically as good as its record suggested in 2016.

Oregon (-0.90): Are you betting on the Ducks’ coaching change to provide a boost or are you preparing yourself for a transition year. If you’re on the fence, Oregon did underachieve slightly in 2016, though when you’re talking about the difference between four and (almost) five wins, neither is acceptable any more in Eugene. The Ducks have 17 starters returning.

Northern Illinois (-1.04): The Huskies only won five in 2016, something of an anomaly in DeKalb, but had the biggest differential of any team on the Huskers schedule. That is to say: The worst team on Nebraska’s schedule — at least according to FPI — is probably a little bit better than they’ll get credit for this offseason.

Rutgers (+0.65): Rutgers won two games with the points-based resume of a 1.35-win team, so you can say with a reasonable amount of confidence, “Yes, the Scarlet Knights really were that bad last season.”

Illinois (+0.11): See above. It’s the same with Illinois.

Wisconsin (-0.28): Nothing fluky or lucky about the Badgers’ run to 11 wins a year ago. Wisconsin has the most returning starters in the West (alongside Northwestern) so the road to Indy rightfully has to go through Madison yet again.

Ohio State (-0.72): If you change only one play from the Buckeye’s season — the blocked field goal that allowed Penn State to beat Ohio State and eventually win the Big Ten — and change the point totals accordingly (minus one touchdown), Ohio State becomes a 12-win team with an 11.82 projection. Instead it’s an 11-win team with an 11.72 projection. Either way, as good as advertised n 2016.

Purdue (-0.12): Not much to see here. Purdue mostly earned its three wins a year ago.

Northwestern (-0.69): After having the worst differential in the country in 2015, the Wildcats fell back into what you’d consider the “normal” range in 2016. With a little better luck last season, maybe Northwestern wins eight games. Instead, Wildcat fans are banking on more this year.

Minnesota (+0.40): Overachieved to a tiny degree. The Minnesota brass is banking on more of that from P.J. Fleck.

Penn State (+0.97): Winning a bunch of close games always puts a team on the wrong side here. The Nittany Lions went 4-2 in one-score games a year ago, which is probably part of the reason why Penn State, with the most returning starters in the conference, is showing up as the third-choice (behind Ohio State and Michigan) in a lot of early Big Ten East Division projections.

Iowa (-0.58): Much like Wisconsin, the Hawkeyes’ eight wins in 2016 were pretty true. If you think the Hawkeyes were overrated last season, based on your preferred ranking system, they probably weren’t.

Now for the main takeaway. There really isn’t a team on Nebraska’s 2017 schedule that fits that classic sleeper or overrated role, at least based on Pythagorean expectation. All of the teams here fall within one standard deviation of the mean difference (Pythagorean wins – actual wins) from 2016 and when that happens you don’t see a lot of correlation to wins the following year.

But I still think it’s useful to know. When you’re considering Northern Illinois, think of it more as a six-win team than a five win-team. Penn State? Maybe more of a 10-win rather than 11-win team.

And Nebraska? It was +1.70 last year, which is perhaps part of the reason for some of the preseason predictions you’re seeing for the Huskers in 2017.

The Grab Bag

  • The big news on Monday, of course, was Michael Jacobson’s decision to transfer. Tim Miles told Lee Barfknecht of the Omaha World Herald that he doesn’t think any additional defections are imminent.
  • Maryland president Walter Loh decided to offer an opinion on North Carolina’s academic scandal and now the two sides are sniping back and forth.
  • According to Austin Ward of ESPN Ohio State has more pass rushers “than it knows what to do with.” Tough problem to have.
  • Texas took sledgehammers to their (set to be renovated) locker room and, of course, posted it on social media. Somewhere Walter Camp gently weeps.

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