Hot Reads: Two Predictive Power Rankings Zig
Photo Credit: John S. Peterson

Hot Reads: Two Predictive Power Rankings Zig, the Other Zags

October 07, 2019

Just when you think the algorithms will zig, they zag. Fitting, I guess, for a Nebraska football team that's displayed the same behavior at various points.

Saturday was one of those points. I expected Nebraska's offense to play pretty well against Northwestern, despite the fact that Northwestern is no joke defensively. That's a bad job by me. I know never to think I know what's going to happen, but I had momentary memory loss.

Instead of a strong offensive performance that allowed the Huskers to roll into Minnesota with some confidence, Nebraska looked like, well, a team playing Northwestern. The Wildcats remain good at dictating the terms. And there's something to be said for Nebraska winning a game on Northwestern's terms (without their leading receiver and starting quarterback for much of the second half and without a scholarship, full-time kicker for all of it). Too often of late, if the Huskers found themselves in the wrong kind of fight they didn't walk away the winner.

This time they did, and that keeps all of Nebraska's loftiest goals on the table for another week. But the closer-than-expected win was sure to ding Nebraska in the predictive power rankings, and it did.

Except in one case.

In two of the three I've been watching the most closely this season. Here's Nebraska's weekly ranking in SP+, FPI and Sagarin:


FPI: Remember back in the offseason when everyone raised an eyebrow at Minnesota being given a 60% win probability against Nebraska? It's up to 68% now that the 36th-ranked Gophers are actually hosting Nebraska, which dropped from 48th to 54th in FPI. Assuming a 2.5-point home field advantage, FPI has this game as Gophers -6, which is just a touch short of the -6.5 opening line Circa Sports put up on Sunday.

SAGARIN: Nebraska took its biggest tumble of the week here, dropping from 36th to 53rd. But, Sagarin also isn't as high on Minnesota as the other two, ranking the Gophers 46th. With the three-point home field advantage prescribed by Sagarin, that puts this game at Minnesota -4.3. Using Sagarin's Golden Mean, which is hitting a very good 56.2% against the spread this season, pushes it up to Gophers -4.6.

SP+: And here was the zig when I was expecting a zag. (Again, never expect things.) Nebraska didn't fall at all in SP+, holding at No. 39. Minnesota's up to No. 26, putting the projected SP+ margin at Minnesota -9.1. Why did the Huskers remain in the top-third nationally here? At this point the three rankings are all valuing Ohio State pretty highly, but it might come down to the source of the Huskers' other loss. SP+ respects Colorado a little more, ranking the Buffs 48th. That's 13 spots higher than in FPI and 22 spots higher than Sagarin.

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