Penn State Still in Top-10 in SP+ and FPI Computer Rankings

By Andrew Rubin on November 2, 2020 at 8:44 am
Oct 31, 2020; University Park, Pennsylvania, USA; Penn State Nittany Lions wide receiver Jahan Dotson (5) makes a catch during the fourth quarter against the Ohio State Buckeyes at Beaver Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Matthew OHaren-USA TODAY Sports
Matthew OHaren-USA TODAY Sports
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Sometimes these days it feels like the sky is falling in State College. 

Penn State is unranked for the first time since 2016, and winless through two games for the first time in eight long years. However, the analytics say it isn’t time to panic. The Nittany Lions are extraordinarily unlucky to not be sitting at 1-1 and have a great chance to close this season out on a nice run. 

Following two weeks of Big Ten play the Nittany Lions sit at No. 7 in ESPN’s FPI ranking and No. 8 in Bill Connelly’s SP+ rankings. SP+ gives Penn State a rating of 18.9 while FPI gives them a rating of 19.2, both of those numbers are how many points better the formulas think the Nittany Lions are than the average college football team. 

Now seeing those numbers might come as a shock to those that just follow the AP and Coaches Polls. But the reason Penn State still sits in the top-10 on both computer rankings are the metrics don’t take wins and losses into account since there is an element of randomness to it, especially in close games. Since by every statistical measure the Nittany Lions outplayed the Hoosiers, they didn't fall much following week one. Then Penn State was beaten by Ohio State -- the top ranked team in both formulas -- by about the same amount as expected. Once again there wasn't another plummet like in the voter based polls. 

So far, Penn State has dropped by about 4 points compared to where they were in the preseason projections. 

In fact, both SP+ and FPI currently have the Nittany Lions listed as favorites in every remaining game. Unless the team starts performing poorly in the easier games in the weeks ahead, it is a good indicator they’ll also be the Vegas favorite in the remaining games. As it stands, both have Michigan as the toughest remaining test. SP+ lists Penn State as 3.2 points better than the Wolverines with a 51.64% chance to come out on top while FPI gives the Nittany Lions a 68.7% chance to come out on top. 

Both see winning out as unlikely, with one more loss as the most likely end result in the remaining six games. If that happens, it won't be the season Penn State fans were looking for, but it also avoids the complete disaster that some currently fear. 

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