What’s Nebraska’s best win in 2017? I’m not asking in a mocking sense or to be facetious. I’m asking because it’s actually sort of a tough question.
And, yes, if you follow the Cornhuskers none of the four wins this season – Arkansas State, Rutgers, Illinois, Purdue – move the needle. That being acknowledged, which one of those teams is the best after two months of the season?
We can probably toss Illinois from the conversation. No matter which ranking system you prefer, it should have the Illini ranked the lowest of the four. Lovie Smith has clearly opted to take his lumps this year given the number of true freshmen that are on the field and hope for something better down the line.
Rutgers is making some small gains, which, given how far the Knights had to go after last year, feel bigger than they would elsewhere, but there’s actually some agreement in the rankings on Rutgers. Here are the Knights’ ranks in the four rankings I look at most often: Sagarin 86th, S&P+ 89th, FEI 86th and FPI 85th. That’s some surprising agreement among four different systems, and it means Rutgers probably doesn’t contend for “best win” at this point.
So you’ve got Arkansas State (5-2) and Purdue (3-5) left. The rankings like Purdue a little bit better overall. Sagarin has the Boilermakers 47th, S&P+ 49th, FEI 32nd and FPI 56th. An automatic win in the Big Ten for most of the Darrell Hazell era, Jeff Brohm has, in eight games, made the Boilermakers look like a Power 5 team again in short order.
Arkansas State ranks anywhere from 22nd (S&P+) to 74th (Sagarin). In three of the four rankings, Purdue would be projected to win on a neutral field. But I’m casting my vote with the Red Wolves. Arkansas State has a great shot at claiming yet another Sun Belt title. It doesn’t have to play Appalachian State, the other 4-0 team in conference, and will be a favorite in its next three games against South Alabama, Texas State and Louisiana-Monroe. That sets up a big game against Troy (at Arkansas State) on Dec. 2 that will probably decide which teams get a share of the conference crown. (A Sun Belt title game is coming in 2018).
My guess is that by the end of the year we’ll view Arkansas State as the best of the four wins so far. Beating any of the teams remaining on the schedule, minus maybe Minnesota, probably trumps that.
But while I was pulling all of these various ratings, I got a little curious about Nebraska’s best wins overall under Riley. I’ll stick with the Sagarin ratings here rather than all four, just because I like the consistency and longevity of that particular set. Through 33 games of the Mike Riley era the Huskers have two wins against teams that finished the season (or are currently ranked) in the Sagarin top 25. It’s easy to remember the best team Nebraska beat over that span (Michigan State, 2015) but any guesses as to the second-best team based on one set of rankings?
Minnesota last year. The Gophers ranked 25th in the final Sagarin ratings of 2016. Here’s Nebraska's record by Sagarin ranking groups the last two-plus seasons. It looks like you’d think it would look, which is to say not the way anyone in Nebraska wants it to look:
|Sagarin Rating||Record||Win Pct.|
Also of note, if the season ended today Nebraska’s Sagarin rank would have dropped each season under Riley from 42nd at the end of 2015 to 45th in 2016 and 58th so far in 2017.
None of that is exactly the graph you want to show your new boss and your next meeting.
The Grab Bag
- UCF Athletic Director Danny White on Scott Frost: "I think he can be the Bobby Bowden of this place, or the Steve Spurrier of this place."
- Andy Staples, who is as plugged in to Florida football as anyone, tackled a couple of Frost questions in his recent mailbag.
- Former Colorado/UCLA/Washington head coach Rick Neuheisel says he'd answer the call if Oregon State wanted to talk to him about coaching in Corvallis.
- ICYMI: Here's this week's No Huddle, Derek Peterson unearths some eye-opening stats from the Huskers in 2017 and Jacob Padilla breaks down Nebraska's game-winning drive against Purdue.
Today's Song of Today
Brandon is the Managing Editor for Hail Varsity and has covered Nebraska athletics for the magazine and web since 2012, Hail Varsity’s first season on the scene. His sports writing has also been featured by Fox Sports, The Guardian and CBS Sports.