The Time Iowa Lent Nebraska a Football Coach
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Hot Reads: Quantifying the Highs and Lows from 2017

May 08, 2018

The offseason, the true "we went for a walk in the woods and now we're lost" offseason that we're in now, can take you to some unexpected places. For example, you can set out to answer a relatively simple statistical question and end up obsessed with game scores.

Since I'm already far off my original path at this point, let's do the thing they tell you not to do when lost: Keep going. What were the best and worst Nebraska games of 2017? Not talking emotionally here––best would be hard to determine by that threshold––but whatever secret sauce of opponent, location and stats various sites and systems use to rank performance.

There are a surprising number of options for that sort of thing, but we'll limit it to three.

FPI: Let's start with one that, if you watch ESPN, you sort of can't help but be familiar with. FPI's game score is a "measure of game performance including how well the team controlled the game along with the final result, accounting for site and opponent strength." It is on a scale of 0-100.

Best: If game control is part of the picture, it's not a surprise to see the 28-6 win over Illinois take the top spot with a score of 75. The Huskers jumped out to a 21-3 halftime lead at Illinois and actually ran the ball decently (for 2017 Nebraska).

Worst: The loss to Northern Illinois (15). I'm a bit surprised by this one. Falling behind 14-0 to a MAC team on your home field is never a good idea, but the Huskers did have a fourth-quarter lead. Couldn't hold it, but the Huskies did finish 8-5 though FPI has them as the fourth-worst team on Nebraska's 2017 schedule. This is a site I like more and more for its blend of unique stats, but if there's an explanation of its Performance Quality metric I couldn't find it. What we do know: It's on a 0-10 scale.

Best: Oh, hey, it's Illinois again with a PQ score of 9.53. That ranked 77th out of 1,565 games listed last year at The win over Rutgers was the next highest at 8.40. Put a pin in that for a second.

Worst: We're two-thirds of the way home on this journey and Ohio State's complete and utter annihilation of the Cornhuskers has yet to rank as the worst performance of 2017. Instead, Iowa takes the honors here and there's a strong argument for it. Both games were played in Lincoln and ended up 56-14. The Buckeyes, one night in Iowa City notwithstanding, were the better team in 2017, however, making that blowout more expected. Nebraska was a 24-point dog to Ohio State, but just 5.5 against Iowa. This game ranked 1,540th out of 1,565 games in overall quality. These are the game ratings I tend to look at most often simply because there are historical comparisons going back to 2007 and I've already played around with those numbers quite a bit. GFEI is "opponent-adjusted single game data," which includes "home field advantage and the strength of the opponent."

Best: The 25-24 win at Purdue, which ranked in the 89th percentile last year based on GFEI. There are only three other options, but there's little question that the surprising Boilermakers were the best team the Huskers beat in 2017. Despite the close score, Nebraska's offensive numbers were good here, and so were the defensive numbers relatively speaking.

Worst: Finally, Ohio State gets the nod. Per GFEI Nebraska's performance in that game was the fifth-worst in college football last season. Minnesota was ranked as the second-worst performance of the season. Third? Not Iowa, here, but the 27-17 win over Rutgers. Sorry, Rutgers.

And because this is something I've looked at before with GFEI, we can put those games in context of the past decade. The 2017 loss to Ohio State, by GFEI, was the worst of the past 11 seasons, going back to 2007. The 2016 loss to the Buckeyes ranks third on the list.

Overall, four of the 15 worst Nebraska performances since 2007 happened in 2017. The best win of last season by GFEI, Purdue, ranked as the 28th-best over that span. If that leaves you wondering how the very best performances of the Mike Riley era ranked, I'll tell you, and it's probably not the game you expect.

The 2016 road win over Northewstern is the top-scoring game here, but it only ranks 14th out of 139 games. The 2016 win over Wyoming is next at 16th, followed by a pair of wins from 2015, Michigan State (17th) and Minnesota (18th).

This is far from a bold prediction, but in hopes of not simply leaving this on a "why you gotta talk about old stuff?" note, I'm willing to bet some game from 2018 will rank better than 14th since 2007 at year's end.

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