Six Year Review of the Husker Offense

In college, I had a joke with a friend. Everyone in the stadium would clap with a three-yard play on 1st and 10. If the defense gives up just two more three-yard plays it is 4th and 1. The offense is looking at two plays where it can either throw or run. Football in 2020 has gotten more sophisticated. Metrics, such as Expected Points Added (EPA), can give us an estimate on how much each play contributed to the offense or defense scoring next. The simplest way to calculate EPA is by taking the average of points scored on a drive for a given down, distance, and field position both before and after the play. The difference in these values is the EPA. If the offense “wins” the play, the EPA is positive. If the defense “wins” the play, EPA is negative. For this analysis, I used the EPA value as calculated from the cfbscrapR package.
One way of judging the success of a team over time can be to look at their cumulative EPA (cEPA). Plotting this value can allow us to easily see when the offe…

Big Ten Recruiting 2017-2020

“Stars don’t matter.” This is a common phrase uttered by many around signing day. Guys like JJ Watt and Le’Veon Bell are some of the top examples. I am not one of those people that think this way. While stars aren’t everything, and walk-ons have a long history of making an impact in college football, having more talent on a roster is the quickest way to more wins. To judge talent levels around the Big Ten, I decided to look at the top 85 recruits each program signed in the last four years (only two years for JUCO signees). These are approximate rankings as they do not consider transfers in and out of each program. This also doesn’t consider players who left early for the NFL such as Chase Young. The main idea is to approximate the talent level of each Big Ten program in 2020.

Ohio State has always dominated Big Ten recruiting. However, the extent to which Ohio State dominated still surprised me. Since 2017, Ohio State has signed 13 five-star recruits. The rest of the Big Ten has sig…

Husker Recuriting Since 2004

Embed from Getty Images
With the 2020 recruiting cycle wrapping up, I wanted to look at how each coach since 2004 stacked up in terms of bringing talent to Lincoln. I decided to plot each coach’s top 75 recruits over his time at Nebraska. This method favors Bo Pelini as he brought seven classes into Lincoln. Bill Callahan, Mike Riley, and, so far, Scott Frost have all brought fewer than four classes. I left Frank Solich out of this analysis as I only had reliable recruiting dating for his 2002 and 2003 classes.

All four coaches brought in similar top 20 guys. Callahan was a premier recruiter of top end talent. Four of the top eight Husker’s signees since 2004 were signed by Callahan: Marlon Lucky, Ndamukong Suh, Cortney Grixby, and Lydon Murtha. Marlon Lucky is the lone five-star recruit of this era of Huskers football.

After the top 20, things start to differ for all the coaches. Callahan and Riley both struggled to bring good talent for depth. From the graph, Pelini seemingly was ab…

Just How Special is the Huskers Returning Trio?

There’s no doubt that Adrian Martinez, Maurice Washington, and JD Spielman are an impressive returning core. But just how rare is it to bring back a trio like this? Since 2010, only seven Power 5 teams have had players put up the kinds of numbers that the Huskers trio has while returning the next season. All seven teams had a better first season than the Huskers in 2018. However, most had similar performance in the second season as in the first. For this exercise I looked for teams returning a QB with 2500+ yards passing along with 500+ yards rushing, a RB with 400+ yards rushing, and a WR with 800+ yards receiving.
2010 (7-6) to 2011 (6-7) Northwestern Players: QB Dan Persa, RB Mike Trumpy, WR Jeremy EbertBoth of these Northwestern teams are the worst performers on the list. Northwestern’s offense improved from 390 YPG to 420 YPG in 2011. However, some bad fortune plagued the trio with Trumpy only appearing in three games due to a torn ACL. Persa saw a slight decline in his producti…

To Run or Not to Run: That is the Question on Third Down

From 2015 through 2017, “Run the Ball” guy was vocal around Lincoln. A Husker legend for running the ball returned in 2018 and things are looking up for the ground game moving forward. However, the analytics guys preach the diminishing value of the ground game. The analytics guys also say that passing should be the only option on third down. I wanted to see for myself how much better Scott Frost’s teams were at passing than running the ball on third. The results were surprising.

On 3rd-and-10, the data say that Nebraska should run the ball if it wants to pick up the first down. If you identify as a “run the ball” guy, you can stop reading this article now, quote my last sentence, use the graph below as proof that running is better on third and ten. For those of you who want more information about why the data say this, the shortcomings of the data, and add more steam to the 2019 Adrian Martinez hype train, keep reading.
This is a logistic regression analysis. What this means is that I’m…

An Homage to NCAA Football: Big Ten Pipeline States

Growing up the Fourth of July meant my favorite holiday was less than two weeks away: the release of the next edition of NCAA football. For over ten years of my life, that Tuesday was my favorite day of the year. It usually took me less than 24 hours to lead Nebraska back to a National Championship. July 9, 2013 was the last day I experienced this joy. When fall camp starts, I will plug my Xbox 360 in, look for a new roster file to download, and play a few seasons bringing Nebraska back to contending status. My favorite part of NCAA Football was recruiting. I loved the feel of gaining a new pipeline state and stealing recruits from the local teams. In honor of NCAA Football, I want to take a real life look at the pipeline states for the schools around the Big Ten.

So, how do I define a pipeline state? If a team has over 5% of their 2019 roster from a single state, it’s a pipeline state for that school. I chose 5% as it caused most schools in the Big Ten to have around four pipeline sta…

Where in the World are the Nebraska Cornhuskers?

The last few weeks, I focused on where Nebraska is recruiting its 2020 class across the United States. Now, I want to look at where Nebraska has built its team from in the past. I used data from for this exercise. This means that all walk-ons are included in the dataset showing Nebraska as the top source of players on the roster. To account for changing roster sizes over the last 50 years, I’m focusing on the percent of players from each state for each season.

Which Nebraska coach since 1970 was responsible for the smallest percentage of Nebraska players on its roster? Callahan? Riley? Bo? The answer is actually the 1970 team itself led by Husker legend Bob Devaney. Only 36% of the 85 players on the team were from Nebraska. Devaney relied on his home state of Michigan for talent on this squad. Nearly 12% of the team was from Michigan.
Tom Osborne’s teams were littered with players from Nebraska. From 1979 to 1985, over 3/5 of the roster were in-state players. This trend peak…