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FancyStats and The B1G and You

A Nerd’s Guide to the First Five Weeks

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Here’s a nerd to explain things to you

Five weeks in, we are learning some things about the B1G, like how Michigan State sucks. And like how Nebraska and Wisconsin have shot their coaches into orbit. But we at OTE know you guys love things like math and numbers, so today we are comparing the B1G preseason expectations on SP+ to where the teams sit today. SP+ is the Advance Nerd Statistic used by 9 out of 10 nerds.

First: THE Ohio State University Buckeyes

Preseason: 3rd overall (29.7), 1st in conference. Offense 1st, Defense 15th

Now: 5-0, 2nd overall (30.6), 1st in conference. Offense 1st, Defense 8th

The Buckeyes have ticked slightly upwards mostly on the back of their defense, which has been stronger than expected, something that matches the eye test of watching the games. Linebackers who make plays instead of watching running backs flying by? Hell of a new system. One thing to watch out for - OSU hasn’t played any good offenses. Notre Dame is currently the top offense at 44th on SP+, and that ranking is probably too high. Just wait until they see Iowa.

Second: Michigan Wolverines

Preseason: 6th overall (21.4), 2nd in conference. Offense 6th, Defense 17th

Now: 5-0, 4th overall (25.4), 2nd in conference. Offense 6th, Defense 11th

Michigan, maybe a bit surprisingly, is up four whole points from the preseason. After perhaps the worst nonconference schedule in history (opponents rate at 125th, 126th, and 131st out of 131 teams), Michigan put together two workmanlike wins against two decent teams. They’ve been pretty solid on both sides of the ball, enough to be the clear cut 4th best team in the land. Gross.

Third: Minnesota Golden Gophers

Preseason: 31st overall (12.4), 7th in conference. Offense 59th, Defense 9th

Now: 4-1, 10th overall (18.7), 3rd in conference. Offense 43rd, Defense 3rd

Despite the soul sucking loss to Purdue, Minnesota is still a big riser from the preseason, mostly due to them kicking the crap out of their first four opponents. The Purdue game was also unusual in that Minny suddenly couldn’t run the ball or stop the (Purdue!) rushing attack. Minny seems to have these weird games every season (uh, Bowling Green?), and the Big Ten West has some late season Game of Thrones energy, so keep an eraser handy for these rankings.

Fourth: Penn State Nittany Lions

Preseason: 13th overall (16.5), 3rd in conference. Offense 48th, Defense 6th

Now: 5-0, 14th overall (17.5), 4th in conference. Offense 45th, Defense 5th.

Penn State is just a tick better than where SP+ originally had them, and it’s a pretty fair landing spot. Road wins over Purdue and Auburn have been devalued a bit by pretty uninspired play against CMU and Northwestern. The defense has been good, the running attack has improved, and the biggest question mark is Sean Clifford verses the curse of being a tenth year college quarterback.

Fifth: Maryland Terrapins

Preseason: 54th overall (4.1), 10th in conference. Offense 29th, Defense 89th.

Now: 4-1, 24th overall (14.2), 5th in conference. Offense 17th, Defense 54th.

The biggest riser yet, the Terps of all teams have outdone their perpetually gloomy expectations. Competence on defense is the story here. Last year, Maryland often got kicked in the throat in blowout losses (they gave up 51 points to Iowa). This year, you wouldn’t say the defense has been good, but it’s been good enough to give them a chance against good teams in SMU and Michigan, and they have more than enough offense to compete if the other team isn’t scoring a dozen touchdowns.

Sixth: Purdue Boilermakers

Preseason: 34th overall (9.9), 8th in conference. Offense 45th, Defense 32nd.

Now: 3-2, 25th overall (14.2), sixth in conference. Offense 34th, Defense 20th.

Purdue is just a percentage point behind Maryland and rounds out the FancyStat Top 25. They’ve been considerably better on both sides of the ball than expected and finally got a signature win against Minnesota. Frankly, they probably should be 5-0, as they outgained both Penn State and Syracuse. No matter, they are still tied for first in the Big Weird West and have a real shot at winning it. Ron English has never let a team down.

Seventh: Iowa Hawkeyes

Preseason: 27th overall (13.3), 6th in conference. Offense 63rd, Defense 8th.

Now: 3-2, 29th overall (12.9), 7th in conference. Offense 93rd, Defense 1st.

The Ferentz Family Hawkeyes aren’t doing much differently than expected, considering the implosion of the offense. Only Michigan was able to solve their defense with any sustained success, and the Big Dumb West is not exactly a murderer’s row of prolific offenses. Outside of a trip to Columbus, Iowa might be able to win the rest of their games with safeties and interception returns. They showed a very faint heartbeat of offense against Michigan. If that improves to mere competence, look out.

Eighth: Wisconsin Badgers

Preseason: 17th overall (15.6), 5th in conference. Offense 57th, Defense 5th

Now: 2-3, 33rd overall (11.7), 8th in conference. Offense 67th, Defense 14th

Now we are getting to the “Setting Their Coaches On Fire” section, and honestly, Wiscy hasn’t been far off from expectations. The offense has looked pretty uninspired, and the defense is still pretty good. The first three games went mostly to plan, with Wisconsin handily outgaining Wazzu even in a loss. But the bottom has fallen out the last two weeks in embarrassing losses. It’s also worth noting here that the SP+ still has preseason expectations as part of the outcome, though those are reduced each week.

Ninth: Michigan State Spartans

Preseason: Overall 15th (16.1), 4th on conference. Offense 20th, Defense 20th.

Now: 2-3, Overall 37th (10.4), 9th in conference. Offense 32nd, Defense 41st.

After starting the season to form against roadkill, Sparty has been mostly uncompetitive in three games against legitimate teams. Mel Tucker had better not send flirty texts to any subordinates, because his mega contract is already the subject of a lawsuit and “fired for cause” is the most popular phrase for teams on the hook for big money. Running the ball and playing defense is a tried and true method for successful teams. Unfortunately, Sparty can’t run the ball or play defense, and they have yet to see OSU or Michigan.

Tenth: Illinois Fighting Illini

Preseason: 79th overall (-2.4), 11th in conference. Offense 104th, Defense 42nd.

Now: 4-1, 44th overall (8.6), 10th in conference. Offense 88th, Defense 9th.

The biggest riser of them all, Mr. Bert has run off the coach of Wisconsin and put the Illini in the mix for the B1G crown. This has been largely on the back of a very stingy defense which has given up 10 points or less in every game but one. Only Indiana(?) has been able to solve the defense, and Illinois still outgained them by 86 yards. That is pretty weird, even by Big Weird West standards.

Eleventh: Nebraska Cornhuskers

Preseason: 44th Overall (8.3), 9th in conference. Offense 53rd, Defense 33rd.

Now: 2-3, 6rd overall (4.0), 11th in conference. Offense 50th, Defense 74th.

Scott Frost, we hardly knew you. The defense has crashed compared to early season hopes, and so has the Huskers team. Anyone can give up 49 to Oklahoma, but it takes a special team to give up 31 to Northwestern and 45 to Georgia Southern. Hope may spring eternal, as they beat Indiana and looked somewhat competent doing it. As Nebraska gets rejected by several coaching candidates, will Head Coach Mickey Joseph lose the interim label when he finished out the year 4-3?

Twelfth: Rutgers Scarlet Knights

Preseason: Overall 80th (-2.7), 12th in conference. Offense 96th, Defense 56th.

Now: 3-2, Overall 77th (-0.4), 12 in conference. Offense 103rd, Defense 42nd.

Rutgers is mildly better than predicted, and while still not a good team, the improvement on defense has helped quite a bit to getting them a winning record. Offensive ineptitude is still a big issue - year three of Schiano has shown real gains on the defense, but the inability to score points is keeping this team from improving in any real way. Can they find three more wins and get to another bowl game? They still have Nebraska, MSU, and Indiana on the schedule, so it’s not out of the question.

Thirteenth: Indiana Hoosiers

Preseason: 86th overall (-5.0), 13th in conference. Offense 98th, Defense 67th

Now: 3-2, 83rd overall (-2.1), 13th in conference. Offense 92nd, Defense 73rd

SP+ is really pegging the bottom of the B1G. Indiana was thought to be mostly crappy, and while they have been a bit better than expected, they are still quite crappy. Three more wins looks hard to find, but they did beat Illinois, so maybe they have a bit more in the tank than the naked eye can discern.

Fourteenth: Northwestern Wildcats

Preseason: 89th overall (-5.6), 14th in conference. Offense 107th, Defense 60th

Now: 1-4, 88th overall (-5.1), 14th in conference. Offense 110th, Defense 60th.

I gotta be honest - I was shocked to see the defensive numbers. I thought Northwestern would be a dumpster fire on defense, like they were last year. But overall they have yet to give up more than 31 points in a game. If their offense had any signs of life whatsoever, they would be right back in the mix. They also have a pretty tough schedule remaining, and finding another win for them looks pretty hopeless. All hail Mike Hankwitz.