ESPN has released their Football Power Index for the 2018 season, and it’s not exactly buying into Scott Frost’s restoration project for this season.
And frankly, it shouldn’t. Any analytics platform is going to use prior results to help project the future, and Nebraska’s 2017 results were, well, not good.
Wait. That’s being generous. 4-8, giving up three straight fifty-burgers to close out the season wasn’t just “not good”; it was awful. So while Scott Frost represents a coaching upgrade, it’s going to be tough for analytics to call for much of a rebound in 2018.
And that’s what Nebraska gets: a projection of a 5.5 - 6.5 record; the half game turns out to be a game that’s essentially a tossup. How does the season shake out in the virtual eyes of ESPN’s computers?
ESPN suggests that Nebraska will be favored to start the season 3-0 in the non-conference portion of the schedule. The Huskers are given a 89.3% chance to defeat Akron, a 79.9% chance over Colorado and a 87.1% chance against Troy. Great, but then that killer conference schedule comes into play.
Banking on Frost walking out of the Big House with a Wolverine pelt in his first Nebraska road game, just like Bob Devaney did 56 years ago? ESPN only gives the Huskers a 10% chance of pulling that off. A home game against Purdue looks like that tossup game; the Huskers are 56.1% favorites to beat the Foster Farms Bowl champions.
Then things turn ugly.
ESPN’s FPI only gives the Huskers a 10.4% chance to beat Wisconsin in Madison, then just a 28.5% chance to remain undefeated in Chicago against Northwestern. (That seems ... curious.) Returning home, the Huskers are a 65.1% chance to beat Minnesota before heading back on the road to Columbus where Nebraska has just a 6.6% chance to upset Ohio State.
ESPN suggests Nebraska’s last victory will come at home against Illinois (74.8%) before a likely loss to Michigan State (19.2% chance of a Husker victory). None of this, while probably disappointing, shouldn’t be a huge surprise until you get to the season finale. ESPN’s FPI predicts that Nebraska only 23.7% chance to travel to Iowa City and defeat the Hawkeyes. That’s less than Illinois’ chance to upset the Big Red in Lincoln, by the way. I get why Iowa would be a favorite at home, but the extent of it seems to be an overreaction.
A few weeks ago, Phil Steele calculated that Nebraska was playing the second toughest schedule in all of college football in 2018, with nine of twelve opponents playing in a bowl last season. Thanks to a murderers row of crossover games with the Big Ten’s east division (Michigan, Michigan State and Ohio State), perhaps it’s not a huge surprise that Nebraska is only predicted to win five or six games in 2018.
That being said, it’s Scott Frost’s job to move that number higher.