If you, like many college football fans, are a little bit tired of the traditional rankings and are in need of something less subjective, the S&P+ rankings may be for you.
Penn State sits at No. 4 in the S&P+ rankings this week, which is also its position in both the AP Poll and the Coaches’ Poll. What is perhaps even more interesting, however, is that if previous rankings were negated, Penn State would come in at No. 2.
Your current S&P+ top 5 if there were no preseason projections:
1. Miss State
2. Penn State
3. Okla State
5. Wake Forest
— Bill Connelly (@SBN_BillC) September 17, 2017
That interesting tidbit aside, this ranking system takes some pretty interesting statistical measures into account when ordering teams. Here’s a look at the ranking methods and what they mean for Penn State:
Second-Order Wins is perhaps the great divider between traditional ranking methods and the S&P+ ranking system. Second-order wins is a way of taking what happened in the game (using an advanced statistical method, of course), looking at the win expectancy these events create, and then comparing these measures to the actual outcome of the game.
The second-order wins method is similar to Pythagorean win percentages, which essentially entails looking at a team’s points scored and allowed, applying an exponent, and predicting the team’s win percentage.
“That basically takes the same idea but uses advanced stats of some sort to determine not simply what you did score and allow, but what you should have scored and allowed,” explains Bill Connelly, who created this ranking.
This works as a projected win total given the games they’ve played. Penn State’s second-order win total is at a solid 3.0, meaning it’s played like the team should have won each game and has. Using efficiency, explosiveness, field position, finishing drives, and turnovers, Connelly is able to find the most likely scoring margin in a game and — given what actually happens — the likelihood of winning a game.
Connelly looks at wins and losses as percentages, as his model essentially says a team has an X% chance to win a particular game if every play in the game is randomized. If your team is winning a lot of those toss-up games, they may expect their luck to soon change.
This overall rating takes efficiency, explosiveness, field position, and ability to finish drives into account. The statistical output comes in the form of both a margin and a percentage.
Penn State’s performance thus far is good enough for the 97.2-percentile, as well as a margin of victory of 22.9. This statistic is where Penn State’s overall ranking of No. 4 comes in.
Offense-Specific S&P+ Rating
Penn State comes in at No. 5 in the offense-specific ranking here, trailing Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, Texas Tech, and USC (in that order). This rating takes into account the same factors Bill Connelly uses to derive an overall S&P+ rating, just on the offensive side of the ball. The offense-specific rating comes in the form of an adjusted scoring average, of which touts an ironic (yet also incredibly prolific) 40.9 (!!!!!!!!).
Defense-Specific S&P+ Rating
The defense-specific rating, as you could imagine, is much like the offense-specific rating. Penn State owns an adjusted scoring average of 18.0 on the defensive side of the ball, which is good enough for No. 11 in the country.
Special Teams S&P+ Rating
Amazingly, the Nittany Lions come in at No. 63 in the special teams ranking. Anyone who has watched Penn State football over the past few years would see a drastic improvement in special teams play over the past two seasons. But even this season, apart from a missed field goal here or there, special teams has been a real strength of James Franklin’s team thus far.
What is important to remember here, however, is that special teams importance is weighed into this calculation. As the Nittany Lions haven’t really seen a close game yet this season, that could definitely be driving this rating down.