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Nebraska Football

Hot Reads: Estimated Win Totals for the Big Ten in 2020

February 18, 2020
7,862

Nebraska is in another top 25 for 2020. ESPN released its first Football Power Index rankings for the upcoming season and the Huskers ranked No. 22.

No ratings were provided, just the rankings, so there's not a ton more that can be added here. The Huskers jumped 25 spots from its final 2019 FPI ranking, the second-biggest increase in the country behind Florida State (+28). I don't know this for sure without seeing the numbers, but it's probably safe to assume that rise, like it was with SP+, is based on a strong offense (which the model says will be strong due to the amount it returns from 2019). Wisconsin's at No. 6, a couple of spots higher than in SP+, but still behind Ohio State and Penn State. Then there's the Minnesota, Nebraska, Indiana, Iowa cluster between Nos. 20 and 30.

Now, back to the numbers we do have. In Monday's Hot Reads I went a little deeper with the initial SP+ ratings to estimate point spreads for each of Nebraska's games and then used those estimated point spreads to determine win probabilities which produced a projected win total of 7.25. If a sports book released a win total for Nebraska today, I'm guessing it would be either 7 or 7.5. Certainly between 7 and 8.

That's all just a sketch, but hopefully it help to show what landing in one of these preseason ratings actually looks like in terms of potential results. Today, we'll use that entire procedure for the rest of the Big Ten. As with Nebraska, if there's an FCS team on a schedule I tried to come up with a realistic point spread while knowing FBS teams are almost always heavy favorites. Tennessee Tech wasn't great a year ago, Minnesota was, so I gave the Gophers a full 99% win probability. Maryland wasn't so good last season, but Towson was, so the Terps only got a 91% win probability. You probably don't really care about that, but in the interest of disclosure that's how FCS games are tallied here––an informed guess.

Using the SP+ ratings, here are the estimated win totals for the Big Ten West:

TEAM EST. WIN TOTAL
Wisconsin 9.91
Minnesota 8.63
Nebraska 7.25
Iowa 6.63
Northwestern 5.63
Illinois 5.04
Purdue 4.89

The Badgers have to play Michigan on the road and Notre Dame at Lambeau Field in back-to-back games, but Wisconsin is a slight favorite in both of those games in this projection. Wisconsin looks like a favorite in all of its games at this point. There's also not a huge drop-off projected for Minnesota after its 11-2 season. Based on this estimate, the Gophers should be flirting with nine wins again.

Perhaps the biggest surprise here is Iowa. The Hawkeyes have to replace some key pieces, which is why they're only 29th in the preseason rankings. They also have a tough slate. The average SP+ rating of an FBS team on Iowa's schedule is 10.03, the highest number in the Big Ten, and the estimated win total (6.63) reflects that. (Nebraska's average opponent rating right now is 9.60, second-highest in the Big Ten.)

I’d be surprised if things actually unfold this but Purdue has the lowest estimated win total here. (Congrats, Illinois.) That’s because the Boilermakers have a potentially brutal opening month. Purdue opens at Nebraska, hosts Memphis and Air Force (12-2 and 11-2 respectively in 2019) and then goes to Boston College in what will be a big game for a program under a new head coach. There already seems to be quite a bit riding on that season opener between Nebraska and Purdue.

On to the East:

TEAM EST. WIN TOTAL
Ohio State 11.15
Penn State 10.00
Michigan 8.19
Indiana 7.69
Michigan State 4.94
Maryland 4.01
Rutgers 2.69

Michigan isn't all that close to the class of the division––Ohio State and Penn State. The Wolverines open at Washington in what could be a coin-flip game, and their schedule overall is also tougher than that of the division heavyweights. If Jim Harbaugh gets over the hump this year, Michigan will probably have earned it.

As if being in the top three in the country wasn't enough, Ohio State also has one of the easier schedules in the Big Ten. The average SP+ of the Buckeyes' FBS opponents is 5.23. Ohio State does have to go Oregon in Week 2, though the current numbers would make the Buckeyes  about a 9-point favorite.

Penn State faces a schedule with an average rating of 5.55. The trip to Blacksburg to face Virginia Tech in Week 2 is tricky, but the Nittany Lions could still be a double-digit favorite. Penn State hosts Ohio State on Oct. 24, and it very well could be an elimination game for the East.

Beyond the top of the division, Indiana should have a decent shot a bowl eligibility, Maryland and Rutgers will not. Also, Michigan State is wowing SP+ with its lack of returning production. (The Spartans' coaching change is not influencing the rating, and thus not the win total here either.)

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