Nebraska Football: It’s OK That ESPN’s FPI Picks Huskers to Win B1G West

Jeremy Renner as Clint Barton in “Avengers: Endgame”

Don’t do that. Don’t give me hope.

Clint Barton, Hawkeye/Ronin, “Avengers: Endgame”

Nebraska ended the 2021 season at 3-9, and head coach Scott Frost is 15-27 in his first four seasons. So Nebraska fans could be rightly surprised when ESPN’s Football Power Index tabbed Nebraska as most likely to win the B1G West. Here’s how the projective metric sees the chances for each team to win the division.

Nebraska29.2%
Wisconsin28.9%
Minnesota14.2%
Iowa13.9%
Purdue13.0%
Illinois0.6%
Northwestern0.3%

I know, I know, another “Nebraska winning the offseason” column. And Nebraska fans certainly are wise to guard their hearts given Frost’s 5-20 (!) record in one-score games.

But hear me out. The FPI really does give some objective reasons why you should at least have some cautious optimism for 2022.

First of all, in the preseason the FPI is based largely on previous season data, including returning starters, coaching tenure, and past performance. Likely starting quarterback Casey Thompson’s experience at Texas helps Nebraska’s performance in the metric.

Second, and probably more importantly, Nebraska’s schedule is far different this year than last. In 2021, even at 3-9, the FPI had Nebraska ranked at no. 29 nationally due to how difficult its schedule was. Last year, the FPI ranked Nebraska’s schedule as the eleventh-hardest in the country, and most difficult in the B1G West.

This year, Nebraska’s schedule is no. 50 nationally. Only Illinois (no. 51), Minnesota (no. 52), and Purdue (no. 62) have easier schedules than Nebraska. Iowa (no. 16), Wisconsin (no. 20), and Northwestern (no. 27) have far more difficult schedules this year.

Of course, the FPI is just a predictive metric based on past performances. It’s no guarantee that this will be the year that Nebraska finally gets back to a bowl game and likely saves Frost’s job. And given what they’ve seen, Nebraska fans could be forgiven for concluding that the team is just plain cursed.

Nebraska doesn’t make it any easier by insisting on a week zero game in Ireland against Northwestern, a team that is almost grown in a lab to cause Frost problems. A loss to the Purples could easily wreck the team’s confidence and start a “here we go again” spiral for the 2022 season.

But if Nebraska is able to beat the Purples in Dublin (and get its first winning record since 2019), then at least the table is set for NU to finally, finally, turn that mythical corner.

GBR, baby.

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