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B1G 2019 // Rutgers Cocktail Party Preview: S&P+ and Chances for Rutgers

“Is there a chance?” Let’s find out with math

Vincent Carchietta | USA TODAY Sports

So this week officially kicks off B1G 2019 here at Off Tackle Empire. Because this multi-week series goes in order of Big Ten finish in the previous season, you are all graced with Rutgers Week first. Finally! We’re first in something! Welcome to our Cocktail Party. Non-open bar, we need money. Food includes mini fat sandwiches, Jersey-style hot dogs, and pork roll sandwiches.

I’d like to start off Rutgers Week by ripping off the band-aid early and asking, “Does Rutgers Football stand a chance this year?” I will answer this question using MATH, and then once answered we can get on with the fun for the rest of the week. Also, this is not really a recap of the painful 2018 season because I didn’t want to go through that again, but if you’re looking for that, you can find it here.

Herein I’d like to predict a baseline, ceiling, and basement for Rutgers Football this upcoming 2019 season using S&P+. I’m going to (1) Compare all of the Big Ten’s projected and actual S&P+ ratings for the last few seasons and determine the range between those numbers to compare broadly across the Big Ten, (2) directly compare the S&P+ ratings of Rutgers’ upcoming opponents in their previous seasons and their projected S&P+ for this season, and (3) determine how accurate of a predictor S&P+ has been for Rutgers’ records in the past.

If you’d like to skip the numbers, please scroll down to the heading titled, “So does Rutgers stand a chance?”

The Opponents

So Rutgers’ 2019 schedule is of course the foundation upon which I will make my comparisons.

The Math

So I went back to projected and actual S&P+ from 2016 up until projected S&P for 2019. If you’re interested in the exact details of what S&P+ is, this excellent article by Bill Connelly, who developed the S&P+ system, summarizes the concept, but the gist is that S&P+ is based around the core concepts of the “Five Factors of winning football,” efficiency, explosiveness, field position, finishing drives, and turnovers.

The purpose of the data below is to show where Rutgers falls in S&P+ relative to our Big Ten peers over the past few seasons, and where Rutgers and B1G teams ended up in actual S&P+ compared to the projected. That should give us a solid idea where Rutgers is likely to end up for the 2019 season.

So the first thing you’ll notice is that in 2 out of the last 3 seasons, Rutgers experienced the greatest negative change between predicted and actual S&P+ of any Big Ten team, with a -11.8 change in 2016 and -9.2 change in 2018. Interestingly, Rutgers performed slightly better than expected in 2017 with an actual S&P+ 1.9 higher than what was predicted. I and others attribute the 2017 season to Jerry Kill as Offensive Coordinator and a slightly more capable offensive identity. However, what doesn’t bode well for Rutgers is that the 2019 team of course shares the most variables with the 2018 season— Head coach, Offensive Coordinator, and, at least currently, Art Sitkowski as the likely QB. In 2018 Rutgers finished dead last in the Big Ten with some of the worst offensive stats in the Power 5 with a 1-11 season.

Overall, it’s crucial to note that Rutgers was last in the Big Ten for 2 out of the last 3 seasons in actual S&P+ and in the bottom 2 Big Ten slots in projected S&P for the last 3 season as well (2 of them being last).

The next comparison involves analyzing how Rutgers’ 2019 opponents performed in 2018 and the current projected 2019 S&P+ ratings for these opponents and whether or not Rutgers’ projected S&P+ is higher (-12.3, same as the actual 2018 S&P+).

Rutgers 2019 projected S&P+ being higher than the select few teams above (UMass and Liberty) would suggest that these are teams Rutgers would beat so long as past projected S&P+ has lined up decently with the final season. Which leads me to my final and arguably most key tables in entire this analysis below.

For context, Rutgers’ projected S&P+ in 2017 and 2018 were -7.3, and -3.1 respectively.

So projected S&P+ over the last two season for Rutgers has been about 74% accurate in terms of predicting game outcomes. Both 2017 and 2018 had 3 unpredicted game outcomes each: 3 unpredicted wins for 2017, and 3 unpredicted losses for 2018. Right now, if we set the current projected 2019 S&P+ rating comparisons between Rutgers and opponents as our baseline season, that baseline season is 2-10. Add in the 26% uncertainty in game outcome based on projected S&P+ for the last 2 seasons, and that superficially suggests a potential ceiling of 5-7 and a basement of 0-12. Upon closer inspection you’ll see, however, that the teams that Rutgers unexpectedly beat in 2017 were within a range of just 5.8 in projected S&P+ rating. There is no 2019 opponent whose S&P+ is within 5.8 of Rutgers’ projected S&P+ of -12.3 (of teams that have a higher S&P). Illinois is the closest, but is 9.2 away. Can Rutgers overcome more than 9 points to at least beat Illinois? The next closest team in terms of S&P+ is Boston College projected currently at 0.7, a difference of 13. After that is Maryland at 2.2, a difference of 14.5. That’s currently on paper Rutgers’ steep uphill climb to a 5 win season. For that reason, I’m more inclined to put Rutgers’ ceiling at 3-9.

So does Rutgers stand a chance?

Probably not.

I’m defining “chance” here as a respectable season, solidly improved from last year, full of genuine progress, and happy memories for suffering Rutgers Football fans.

Of course though there are other variables at play in College Football and what determines a season. The 2019 Projected S&P+ Ratings, which can be found here, were last updated on February 11th. Since then Rutgers has had a few months of a new defensive coordinator, had its Spring Game, transfer outs, and just yesterday added a grad transfer quarterback with one year of eligibility from Texas Tech. However, I don’t see any major significant changes that suggest Rutgers can radically surpass its S&P+ projections. The most extreme positive S&P+ change in the Big Ten of the past 3 seasons was Purdue in 2017 with an Actual S&P+ that was a +12.4 increase over the projected. (Ironically that was the season Rutgers beat Purdue)

On Saturday I asked Reddit/CFB

What are some examples, both in stats and records, of teams that on paper were expected to do poorly, but did unexpectedly fine or even well?

Asking for a Rutgers fan...

There were over 190 responses in the comments of great examples which are worth reading as a fan of College Football in general, and I’m sure you can think of a few yourself. Teams that beat the numbers. But given the reliability S&P+, basically the only thing Rutgers fans have is hope— derived from those ‘numbers’ that cannot be calculated or predicted.

Maybe we’ll shock the conference.

I’m inclined to think that we won’t. I want to be wrong.

So do you think Rutgers might have a chance to do well this season? Let us know in the comments and Happy Rutgers Week!

Be sure to check back daily for all things Rutgers and B1G 2019 (This schedule is subject to change).

Monday: Rutgers Cocktail Party Preview

Tuesday: Reviewing Rutgers’ Greatest Seasons Before the 150th Anniversary of CFB

Wednesday: ???

Thursday: The Rutgers Experience in Memes

Friday: Rutgers Hate and Self-Hate Friday