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Surprise, surprise: PSU 17th in SP+ rankings

Photo by Penn State Athletics: Jahan Dotson makes a TD grab.

There are a whole bunch of ways to compare college football teams, some of which are better than others. And sometimes you see a ranking that seems so far out of place that you stop and scratch your head.

ESPN college football analyst Bill Connelly has an analytics formula he calls SP+, and he has an … ummm … interesting take on Penn State’s performance this season.

In his SP+ rankings released today, Connelly has the Nittany Lions as the No. 17 team in the country, despite a 4-5 record. The rankings are even more fascinating when you consider this: Notre Dame is No. 16 after a 10-2 season and appearance in the College Footbal Playoff.

The SP+ ratings are listed as ESPN+ content that users have to pay for, so I’m not going to give the entire list away here for free. But you can find the entire rankings if you’re a little resourceful with your google search skills.

Here are a couple of highlights, though.

Alabama is No. 1 and Ohio State No. 2. At No. 17, Penn State is ahead of No. 18 Oregon (4-3), No. 21 Miami (8-3) and No. 22 Oklahoma State (8-3). Oh, and Indiana is only No. 24 after a 6-2 season that included a controversial win over PSU.

Coastal Carolina, which finished 11-1, is only 25th.

Connelly’s SP+ formula includes offense, defense and special teams, all tabulated to come up with a final rating.

Here’s a story from Saturday Down South last year discussing the SP+ rankings.

What is SP+? In a single sentence, it’s a tempo- and opponent-adjusted measure of college football efficiency. I created the system at Football Outsiders in 2008, and as my experience with both college football and its stats has grown, I have made quite a few tweaks to the system.

Media members, fans and bettors – especially bettors – paid close attention to the S&P+ rankings over the years because of their “52 to 54 percent success over a full season” against the Las Vegas point spread.

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Cory Giger is a 15-year veteran of the Penn State beat and a journalist with 28 years of experience. He has won more than 100 state and national journalism awards during his career, plus he's a voter for the Heisman Trophy in football and Wooden Award in basketball.

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