Fresh off of his roughly one month of rest per year, Bill Connelly is back with his 2019 S&P+ projections. Penn State, despite lacking significant returning production, slot in at No. 14.
S&P+ has proven to be a reliable and strong predictor of college football. The formula takes into account the three things that most impact a team's hope for success in any given season. Recruiting rankings help determine the overall level of talent on the team. Returning production helps determine the amount of proven experience will be on the roster, as only very special players can take on a starting role for the first time and not have any growing pains. And the Weighted five-year average helps determine the "reflection of overall program health," such as coaches' abilities, player development, etc. Let's see how S&P+ views our beloved Nittany Lions and even a few of their key opponents in 2019.
Penn State - No. 14
Penn State's biggest knock is, as expected, their lack of returning production. They're losing practically all of their passing yards (McSorley) and a vast majority of their rushing yards (Sanders and McSorley). Fortunately, Penn State has averaged 10.3 wins per season and 11.3 in the team recruiting rankings (according to the 247Sports Composite). That is a tremendous base for team talent and the staff is proving they know how to develop and win. Things are looking up in Happy Valley.
Ohio State - No. 7
The Buckeyes are in a very similar, albeit slightly better boat as Penn State. Tremendous talent and recent success, but a lack of returning production. Ohio State just lost Dwayne Haskins who had one of the greatest passing seasons, statistically, in college football history. While Fields could be spectacular, he's proven next to nothing at the college level. Predicting him to be great is one thing, but expecting it is another. Ohio State also lost Mike Weber, a few senior receivers, Michael Jordan, and Dre'mont Jones, all significant contributors. Nick Bosa is also off to the NFL but due to his season-ending injury, it's unclear how much he affects their returning-production variable. They've had a ton of wins over the past several seasons and tremendous recruiting, so Connelly thinks the Buckeyes should be just fine.
Michigan - No. 9
Michigan is very steady across the board. They have had solid recruiting success, return a good chunk of production, and have won a lot of games over the last five years. They do lose Devin Bush, Rashan Gary, Chase Winovich, Karan Higdon and David Long, amongst others, however. That defense will be hard-pressed to replicate their success. Luckily for them, S&P+ is pretty heavily weighted toward returning your quarterback. As always, nothing will matter for them until they beat Ohio State.
Michigan State - No. 23
Like Michigan, the Spartans are pretty steady across the board. It's unclear how much that will matter, though. Michigan State was pretty unspectacular last year. While they did beat Penn State, they benefited greatly from a number of oddities. It's unclear where this team stands, as they went 3-9 in 2016, 10-3 in 2017, and 7-6 in 2018. Here's to guessing that 7-6 is roughly their mean going forward.
Iowa - No. 25
Iowa is as high as they are due to returning production, namely, quarterback Nate Stanley and defensive end AJ Epenesa. Penn State has to go on the road to Iowa City this year, and that will be far from a cakewalk. But according to the S&P+, Penn State has a greater level of talent and an overall "healthier program."
Pitt - No. 59
According to S&P+, Pitt is looking... not great. They have a pretty unspectacular level of talent on the team, and their returning production is ranked pretty low even with a returning quarterback. Darrin Hall and Quadree Ollison made up practically all of their rushing yards, which was responsible for about 50 percent of their overall yardage. Their weighted five-year variable isn't terrible, but they're on a downward trend, as they've lost seven games in back-to-back seasons. Their best season was undoubtedly 2016 as they beat both Penn State and Clemson... and still lost five games. It's a pretty below-average outlook for the future of the Panthers' program.
That makes it four possible top-25 teams on Penn State's schedule this season. Bill Connelly may look at the Nittany Lions a little more favorably than a few others, but it's backed by actual math and feels like a pretty good spot. What say you, fellow Nittany Lions?