Photo credit - IU Athletics

IU football in 2023 through the lens of ESPN’s data driven power rankings model

With spring practice around the corner, this is the time of the year when the less cynical IU fans begin to wonder — “could this be our year?”

But hope doesn’t spring eternal for many after a brutal two season stretch.

Coming off one of the better two consecutive season spans in program history, Tom Allen’s Hoosiers have done little to build belief.  After going a combined 14-7 in 2019-20, the Hoosiers went just 6-18 in 2021-22.  That was the lowest two-year win total for IU since the first two seasons of the Kevin Wilson era in 2011-12, coming immediately after the best two season win total since 1993-94.

Is there reason to belief IU can at least turn a corner and get back to bowl eligibility 2023?

Of course the 2023 schedule is a major limiting factor.  In what is expected to be the last season of the current divisional format, Ohio State, Michigan and Penn State are all on the 2023 slate once again.  Also on the schedule are a neutral site game against Louisville, a trip to Maryland, a home game against Michigan State, and an ugly West division gauntlet that includes a home game against Wisconsin and road trips to Illinois and Purdue.

One of our favorite offseason measurements of what to expect when it comes to the upcoming IU football season is ESPN’s SP+ model produced by Bill Connelly.

SP+ is a form of power rankings based on data.

This is how Connelly describes the model:

It’s a tempo- and opponent-adjusted measure of college football efficiency. It is a predictive measure of the most sustainable and predictable aspects of football, not a résumé ranking, and, along those same lines, these projections aren’t intended to be a guess at what the AP Top 25 will look like at the end of the year. These are simply early offseason power rankings based on the information we have been able to gather to date.

Connelly says the SP+ projections stem from three primary questions: How good has your team been recently? How well has it recruited? And who returns from last year’s roster?

Based on those factors, here is how SP+ predicts the Big Ten.  Teams Indiana plays this year are in bold:

  1. Ohio State (No. 2 nationally)
  2. Michigan (No. 3)
  3. Penn State (No. 5)
  4. Wisconsin (No. 25)
  5. Iowa (No. 27)
  6. Minnesota (No. 30)
  7. Maryland (No. 41)
  8. Illinois (No. 44)
  9. Michigan State (No. 47)
  10. Nebraska (No. 48)
  11. Purdue (No. 49)
  12. Indiana (No. 64)
  13. Rutgers (No. 83)
  14. Northwestern (No. 89)

The 2023 schedule also includes No. 74 Akron and No. 99 Louisville, along with FCS program Indiana State.

Returning production makes up about half of the SP+ projection formula.  It measures things like returning tackles, passes defensed, offensive line snaps, quarterback passing yards, etc.  It also accounts for transfers in and out, so an inbound transfer’s production last season is included.

Here is how the conference ranks according to Connelly’s returning production model:

  1. Michigan (81 percent, No. 5 nationally)
  2. Rutgers (73 percent, No. 23 nationally)
  3. Wisconsin (72 percent, No. 27 nationally)
  4. Nebraska (69 percent, No. 39 nationally)
  5. Indiana (69 percent, No. 41 nationally)
  6. Michigan State (68 percent, No. 45 nationally)
  7. Ohio State (67 percent, No. 48 nationally)
  8. Penn State (65 percent, No. 56 nationally)
  9. Purdue (65 percent, No. 57 nationally)
  10. Maryland (64 percent, No. 65 nationally)
  11. Illinois (63 percent, No. 71 nationally)
  12. Minnesota (58 percent, No. 87 nationally)
  13. Iowa (57 percent, No. 94 nationally)
  14. Northwestern (56 percent, No. 96 nationally)

For Indiana, these figures are comprised of a 65 percent return (No. 63 nationally) on the offensive side of the ball, and a 72 percent return (No. 34 nationally) on the defensive side.

The Big Ten leads the nation in average returning production.

The Daily Hoosier –“Where Indiana fans assemble when they’re not at Assembly”