College football may still be more than six months away, but with recruiting in the books, and the first round of transfer portal entries out there, ESPN's Bill Connelly has released his first SP+ projections for the 2020 season. Those rankings have Penn State ranked No. 5 nationally at this early stage.
As you likely know from reading this site over the years, SP+ is intended to be a strictly predictive metric, not a resumé ranking. For his preseason rankings, Connelly uses returning production, recent recruiting, and recent history.
- RETURNING PRODUCTION: Estimating improvement or regression based on the percentage of returning production and applying it to 2019's ratings makes up more than 50% of these preseason projections. You can see returning production rankings here.
- RECENT RECRUITING: Regardless of your feelings on the importance of stars, they matter, and recruiting rankings are extremely predictive. For these projections, Connelly primarily pulls from the two most recent classes, and older classes to a lesser degree.
- RECENT HISTORY: It's not a huge factor (less than 10%), but previous years' performances can give us a pretty good idea of the overall health of a program. As Connelly says, a team that has played well for one year is less likely to duplicate that effort than one that has been good for multiple seasons.
Here's what Bill has to say about your Nittany Lions:
Most people view Penn State as a potential top-10 team for sure, but James Franklin's Nittany Lions stole a top-five slot primarily because of experience. They return starting quarterback Sean Clifford, their top three running backs, four of their top six receiving targets, and six offensive linemen with at least 250 snaps in 2019. Plus, while they have to replace a few disruptors in the defensive front seven, the secondary -- by far the most important unit on your defense from a returning production perspective -- is deep and seasoned.
Once we hit August, these rankings will be updated again as 2020 rosters will be more or less set.