Jim Polzin: The Badgers football team has a poor record. So why is it so high in an ESPN IT ranking? | national

As tough as the University of Wisconsin football team has been to watch this season at times, it has at least one fan.

Not a human admirer, but an admirer nonetheless.

The Badgers are # 7 in ESPN’s SP + rankings this week. It’s # 7 in the country, not # 7 in the Big Ten, and I’m going to stop here to give you a chance to pull yourself together.

No more laughing? All right, let’s continue.

Since it is difficult to have a good dialogue with a computer, I instead contacted the man who plugs the numbers into a system that has a better opinion of the Badgers than them.

ESPN writer Bill Connelly is a smart (and friendly) man. Connelly describes himself as a “professional nerd” on his Twitter profile, and he is highly respected in college football and analytics.

The point here is not to make fun of Connelly and his SP + rating. I wanted to talk to Connelly to find out if there was anything I was missing – how can a team that doesn’t pass the eye test be this high in their rankings? – and maybe even see if he could give any hope for the Badgers’ second half of the season.

Let’s start with what SP + ratings are and what they are not. The system, in Connelly’s own words, is “a measure of the effectiveness of college football adjusted to pace and opponent” and “is intended to be predictive and forward-oriented.” It is in no way a classification of CVs.

To start: UW is a spot ahead of Michigan, which beat the Badgers 38-17 on Oct. 2. Undefeated, Oklahoma and Cincinnati are also behind UW in the SP + rankings.

That UW remained at No.7 this week despite its unimpressive 20-14 home win over Army, even the system’s creator surprised.

Connelly said he thought “this is the week when they’re surely going to drop enough that I make myself scream less, and (again) they’re there in seventh and they’re not moving.” It’s a little frustrating, but at least I know why. I understand my system well enough to know what it sees in Wisconsin although I don’t necessarily agree with it.

So what exactly does SP + see in badgers?

To some extent, he still sees previous UW teams. Connelly said preseason screenings are half of a team’s standings at this point in the season and that figure will drop to 15-20% by the end of the season. The limited number of matches in college football tests the accuracy of a predictive system like SP +, so Connelly said that “building on those past numbers gives us a more complete picture of each team” while also admitting that past success has kept UW and Clemson (No. 4 despite being 4-2) in the top 10 in their system.

SP + also sees a very solid UW defense which is No. 2 domestically, behind Georgia alone.

UW is # 55 on offense in SP + which seemed high until Connelly reminded me that efficiency matters most in his system. UW is 105th nationally in explosive play rate, 110th in points per practice and 87th in yards per practice, but it’s 50th in pass rate, which measures its effectiveness on a play-by-play basis.

Here’s how Connelly measures whether a game is successful: whether an attack gains at least 50% of the distance needed to move the chains to the first down; 70% at the second attempt; and 100% on the third and fourth downs. UW’s offense, for the most part, did a good job on schedule, but shot themselves in the foot with turnovers and are forced to make long runs due to lack of capacity. big game.

Breaking it down further, UW is 29th nationally for fast pass rate, 95th for passing pass rate, 37th on what Connelly calls the “standard low” – first down, second and 7 or less and third. and 4 or less – and 80th on ‘transmission. “

“They’re not terrible in that one (efficiency category) and pretty terrible in everything else,” Connelly said. “Without the preseason numbers they would be lower than the 55th, but they are doing at least one thing.”

All of this begs the question: if Connelly’s system is designed to be predictive, does it predict good things for the Badgers the rest of the way?

The answer is yes, with an asterisk attached to it. SP + has UW (3-3, 1-2 Big Ten) favorite to win each of their remaining games, starting on Saturday when they face Purdue (4-2, 2-1) at Ross-Ade Stadium in West Lafayette, Indiana.

Of course, the Badgers have been favored in every game so far by SP + and Las Vegas and sit 0.500 halfway through the season.

One thing Connelly is watching is the projected revenue margin, and he said UW should be minus-2 in that category right now. Its real turnover margin: minus-10, which ranks it last among the 130 national teams.

As good as the Badgers’ defense is, it has just two interceptions from 25 stoppages. It’s a huge disparity which is an indicator that UW hasn’t done a good enough job of taking advantage of revenue opportunities.

On the other hand, opponents from UW have nine steals and 14 assists.

Connelly calls UW both “glitch and unlucky” and while that’s probably who he is in the first category, maybe the last category will be equal for the Badgers.

“So there is hope,” he said. “It’s just until you see them not turning the ball around so much and stopping throwing interceptions, it’s hard to completely believe it.”

Angry fans fill Connelly’s Twitter timeline every week, and UW’s place in the SP + rankings has been one of the biggest talking points.

“It’s less now that Iowa has lost because it was a big deal for Iowa being behind Wisconsin. ‘How dare you?’ That sort of thing, ”Connelly said. “It looks at least better. It will be even better if Wisconsin defeats Purdue this week. I would appreciate that.

SP + says the Badgers have a 51% chance of going 8-4 or better. UW probably need to run the table to win the West Division and there’s a 16% chance of that happening, according to Connelly’s system.

In other words, unlikely. But you didn’t need a computer to tell you that.

About Betty J. Snyder

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