What the Huskers' Skill Guys are Working on This Offseason
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Hot Reads: Where the Huskers Rank in the First FPI Ratings for 2019

February 18, 2019

ESPN Stats and Info got me a Valentine last week and I didn't even notice. On Feb. 14, ESPN put out its Football Power Index 1.0 ratings for the 2019 season.

We don't have game-by-game or win-total projections in this initial rollout, just the basic FPI rating and projected national rank by unit (offense, defense, special teams). Nebraska ranked 35th with an FPI of 8.0, meaning the Huskers are projected to be 8 points better than an average team on a neutral field. Last year Nebraska was 51st in the first rankings with an FPI of 3.9.

Nebraska fares a little better here than it did in the initial S&P+ rankings released last Monday where the Huskers were 45th and projected as 6.6 points better than the average team. If I had to guess why (based on what you can read about the methodology of each) the slight difference probably comes down to FPI putting extra weight on returning a quarterback––hey, Adrian Martinez––and how it weights the previous seasons in the equation. FPI looks at the past four seasons but puts the most weight on the previous season. Despite the same 4-8 record as 2017, in the eyes of FPI 2018 Nebraska was 5.2 points stronger than the 2017 team. The Huskers improved.

S&P+ doesn't include the previous season in its "recent history" component at all. (That season is largely covered by another component, "returning production.") Instead this system looks at the four seasons prior to the previous season, 2014–17 this year, for its recent history calculation.

For Nebraska, the FPI method is a little bit kinder so the Huskers are 10 spots higher. It's not a huge difference but when you apply it to 130 teams it can return some different game projections.

This is an important note: We don't have actual game projections from either ranking system yet. Those will come later.

But one of the nice things about a predictive ranking system that outputs points is that you can pretty easily come up with projected lines for a game between any two opponents. Or, all 12 opponents on Nebraska's 2019 schedule.

For example, in FPI Nebraska is 8.0 points better than average and opening-week opponent South Alabama is 19.5 points worse. Subtract South Alabama's number from Nebraska's, add a little bit for home field advantage––2.5 points is pretty common––and you have a line of Nebraska -30.

Just out of curiosity I did that for all 12 Nebraska games on the 2019 schedule using both FPI and S&P+ with the same 2.5-point home-field advantage for every game. Again, these aren't the FPI and S&P+ projections, but my calculations of a potential line using the numbers from those systems. (I rounded these to the nearest half-point. Games where Nebraska is an underdog in red.)

South Alabama -30 -30
at Colorado -5.5 -2.5
Northern Illinois -18.5 -10
at Illinois -9.5 -13
Ohio State +3.5 +15
Northwestern -7.5 -5
at Minnesota +4 +5.5
Indiana -6 -3
at Purdue -5.5 Pick
Wisconsin +0.5 +11
at Maryland -5.5 -2
Iowa Pick +3.5

A quick collection of thoughts . . .

>>Pretty big difference with Northern Illinois. Chalk some of that up to the Huskies' coaching change, which FPI treats as a regression to the mean across the board, and heavier weight on 2017 where NIU finished 85th despite going 8-6.

>>The biggest differences, however, come with Nebraska's two best opponents, Ohio State and Wisconsin. The Buckeyes' number in FPI takes into account a lack of quarterback experience. (The addition of Justin Fields gets special mention in the write up.) Wisconsin? I'm less sure about that one other than the 2018 season is getting the most weight here.

>>Both rating systems are high on Minnesota. If that proves to be true, the Huskers' trip to Minneapolis on Oct. 12 might be one to watch. Both are pretty high on Indiana, too. Not unrelated: Those are the two teams that return the most in the Big Ten.

>>Just so you don't have to count it up yourself, my calculation using FPI and S&P+ has Nebraska favored in eight and seven games respectively with one pick-em game each. Feels like a pretty good starting point to me.

The Grab Bag

  • Kyle Kardell offers three takeaways from Nebraska baseball’s 3-1 opening weekend.
  • Derek Peterson looks at recruiting rankings of the teams to make the College Football Playoff.
  • Nice win for Nebraska women’s basketball on Sunday.
  • I went to Saturday’s AAF game on Saturday in Birmingham and wrote about it. (Sort of. It’s not really about the game at all.)

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