Penn State Finishes No. 6 in Final SP+ Rankings

By Nick Polak on January 16, 2020 at 3:34 pm
Dec 28, 2019; Arlington, Texas, USA; Penn State Nittany Lions defensive end Shane Simmons (34) and linebacker Cam Brown (6) and the mascot celebrate after the game against the Memphis Tigers at AT&T Stadium.
Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports

After a season that saw them finish with 11 wins and a New Years Six bowl win, Penn State is riding high heading into 2020. The AP Poll recently ranked them No. 9 in the final poll of the season, and they're being consistently ranked inside the way-too-early top-10's for this upcoming fall.

But could these Lions have been even better than we think? The advanced stats certainly think so. Bill Connelly of ESPN released the final round of his SP+ rankings for the season and the Lions finished No. 6 in the country. They ended up with the No. 13 offense, the No. 10 defense, and the No. 3 special teams. They were the only team in the country to have all three units be ranked inside the top-15. Only two other programs even had all three units ranked inside the top-20 (LSU, Florida).

Though the 2019 Penn State team had its flaws, it was one of the more well-rounded squads in the country, if not the most well-rounded. The improvement in special teams is perhaps the most notable thing here, as the Nittany Lions have struggled to find consistency in that department in recent years. Thanks to a bounceback year from punter Blake Gillikin, the revelation that was Jordan Stout on kickoffs, and fantastic punt coverage from gunner Dan Chisena and others, the unit took major strides.

The advanced stats don't tell the entire story of a season, of course, but they do indicate that this team was not nearly as far away as some fans may have thought, and with so many starters set to come back in 2020, the future looks bright. Not to mention, one of the teams to finish higher than Penn State in offensive SP+? That would be new offensive coordinator Kirk Ciarrocca's Minnesota offense (No. 7).

The Big Ten finished as follows.

Final 2019 SP+ Rankings
Overall Ranking Team Offensive Ranking Defensive Ranking Special Teams Ranking
1 Ohio State (13-1) 4 2 21
6 PENN STATE (11-2) 13 10 3
10 Michigan (9-4) 21 11 36
11 Wisconsin (10-4) 12 14 99
13 Minnesota (11-2) 7 26 83
20 Iowa (10-3) 54 6 15
23 Indiana (8-5) 22 43 37
42 Michigan State (7-6) 91 13 105
55 Nebraska (5-7) 41 63 124
61 Illinois (6-7) 92 54 7
64 Purdue (4-8) 45 82 78
91 Northwestern (3-9) 123 27 122
96 Maryland (3-9) 76 79 126
117 Rutgers (2-10) 121 84 73
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