Hot Reads: Updated FPI Projects 5.8 Wins for Nebraska Football
Photo Credit: Eric Francis

Hot Reads: Updated FPI Projects 5.8 Wins for Nebraska Football

April 16, 2020

ESPN is in the process of updating its 2020 Football Power Index ratings. While the full rankings aren't posted yet, if you go to individual team pages you'll find the FPI rating and where that ranks nationally, projected won-loss records, conference-title probabilities and strength-of-schedule rankings.

Two months ago, FPI ranked Nebraska 22nd, noting that the Huskers had the second-biggest jump (25 spots) from the end-of-season 2019 rankings to the first rankings of 2020. If anything, that ranking was too high for most Husker fans as FPI's release set off three or four days of conversation about hype, earning it, etc., etc.

Despite the fact that nobody got much spring football in during the month of March, Nebraska has come back to earth in the updated FPI ratings. Version 2.0 has the Huskers rated as 6.6 points better than the average opponent, which ranks 40th nationally. Just to make sure this is clear, Nebraska went from 47th at the end of 2019 to 22nd in the preseason rankings then back to 40th here in April.

I don't know why that happened. In terms of things that have happened that a system like FPI would measure, the only thing between February and April has been roster attrition and addition. The biggest factor there for Nebraska is JD Spielman's leave of absence, though I'd be somewhat surprised if FPI was fully removing him from the equation based on the official announcement that was provided. That said, if Spielman isn't playing at Nebraska this season that would have an impact on the Huskers' projected power rating.

Is that enough on its own for a drop of 18 spots in the rankings? Probably not. (And, again, I'd be really surprised if he wasn't in FPI's calculations at this point. Spielman's still on the roster. Followers of Nebraska football may already be assuming he's not coming back, but I'd be surprised if FPI was currently making that judgment.) But factor in some additions elsewhere and you have a domino effect that could result in such a drop over two non-football months. Northwestern, for example, added former Indiana quarterback Peyton Ramsey in March. The Wildcats rose from 38th in the first FPI rankings to 25th.

ESPN analyst Brad Edwards told Hail Varsity Radio on Wednesday that the full FPI ratings and rankings were supposed to be released this week, but technical difficulties prevented the full rollout. Right now, you have to go to the individual team pages to see the numbers. 

Here are all of the rankings changes between February and April:

Ohio State 2 2
Penn State 5 7
Wisconsin 6 4
Michigan 16 19
Minnesota 20 30
Nebraska 22 40
Indiana 26 23
Iowa 27 22
Purdue 36 47
Northwestern 38 25
Michigan State 58 67
Illinois 65 53
Maryland 68 79
Rutgers 83 82

On the team pages you will also find projected records. Nebraska's is set at 5.8-6.2.

The new numbers have Nebraska with a win probability greater than 60% against Purdue, Central Michigan, South Dakota State, Cincinnati, Illinois and Rutgers. Those are all home games. FPI gives Nebraska just a 29% chance of winning its first road game of 2020, at Northwestern on Oct. 3.

The real issue, from a predictive point of view, arrives a few weeks later. Nebraska is given less than a 30% win probability against Ohio State, Penn State, Iowa and Wisconsin, four opponents it plays in consecutive weeks between Oct. 31 and Nov. 21. The Huskers finish with Minnesota in Lincoln, a game FPI currently views as a coin flip.

"One of the things FPI does is it judges the most-difficult stretches of the season," Edwards said. "Nebraska is No. 1 [nationally] in both the four-game stretch and five-game stretch category. Whether you're looking at games eight through 11 or eight through 12, both of those are considered the toughest in the country."

Add all those probabilities up and you get 5.8 wins.

That's familiar territory of late for Nebraska. In 2017, FPI projected 5.5 wins. It was that again in 2018. Last year, it was 8.1 projected wins as FPI saw a favorable schedule. Nebraska failed to exceed those projections all three seasons.

The last time the Huskers did was in 2016. FPI projected 8.9 regular-season wins in Mike Riley's second year. The Huskers won nine.

Do with that what you will. If you thought the initial FPI ranking for 2020 Nebraska was too high, that has been remedied. I'm just not exactly sure how or why at this point.

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