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Ranking the Penn State teams of the last 90 years


Hey, it's Bill C. from Rock M Nation.  I have been doing a series, both at RMN and on Twitter, ranking teams based on a measure I call Estimated S&P+.  It's a takeoff of the S&P+ data I have created and maintained for Football Outsiders.  Anyway, I only have play-by-play data for 2005-09, so I have created an Estimated S&P+ measure based on points scored and points allowed.  It takes your points scored/allowed, compares it to what would have been expected based on the competition you played, and spits out a rating.  It's not perfect -- if you are a mid-major who completely dominates every opponent but doesn't actually play anybody, you will probably rank higher than you deserve -- but I wanted to see if the rankings it created altered the way I viewed some of the best teams of all-time.

Anyway, I'm ranking Missouri teams at Rock M and the Top 100 of all-time on Twitter, and Cairo asked if I would be willing to share the Penn State list as well.  Here it is.

1. PSU 1969 (11-0) – #49 in the Top 100 … TOTALLY screwed out of the national title (damn Nixon).
2. PSU 1986 (12-0) – #69 on the list (spoiler alert!)
3. PSU 1982 (11-1)
4. PSU 1994 (12-0) (we'll come back to this one)
5. PSU 1978 (11-1)
6. PSU 1968 (11-0)
7. PSU 1981 (10-2)
8. PSU 1977 (11-1)
9. PSU 2005 (11-1)
10. PSU 1973 (12-0)
11. PSU 1980 (10-2)
12. PSU 2008 (11-2)
13. PSU 1991 (11-2)
14. PSU 1985 (11-1)
15. PSU 1971 (11-1)
16. PSU 1975 (9-3)
17. PSU 1947 (9-0-1)
18. PSU 2009 (11-2)
19. PSU 1920 (7-0-2)
20. PSU 1996 (11-2)
21. PSU 1921 (8-0-2)
22. PSU 1993 (10-2)
23. PSU 1972 (10-2)
24. PSU 1959 (9-2)
25. PSU 1948 (7-1-1)
26. PSU 1999 (10-3)
27. PSU 1998 (9-3)
28. PSU 1967 (8-2-1)
29. PSU 1962 (9-2)
30. PSU 1956 (6-2-1)
31. PSU 1974 (10-2)
32. PSU 1990 (9-3)
33. PSU 1995 (9-3)
34. PSU 2002 (9-4)
35. PSU 1960 (7-3) – Mizzou beat this team!
36. PSU 1997 (9-3)
37. PSU 1989 (8-3-1)
38. PSU 1961 (8-3)
39. PSU 1979 (8-4)
40. PSU 2007 (9-4)
41. PSU 1923 (6-2-1)
42. PSU 1958 (6-3-1)
43. PSU 1946 (6-2)
44. PSU 1952 (7-2-1)
45. PSU 2006 (9-4)
46. PSU 1963 (7-3)
47. PSU 1954 (7-2)
48. PSU 1940 (6-1-1)
49. PSU 1942 (6-1-1)
50. PSU 1927 (6-2-1)
51. PSU 1970 (7-3)
52. PSU 1983 (8-4-1)
53. PSU 1941 (7-2)
54. PSU 1953 (6-3)
55. PSU 1987 (8-4)
56. PSU 1939 (5-1-2)
57. PSU 1957 (6-3)
58. PSU 1992 (7-5)
59. PSU 1943 (5-3-1)
60. PSU 1964 (6-4)
61. PSU 1976 (7-5)
62. PSU 1922 (6-4-1)
63. PSU 1924 (6-3-1)
64. PSU 1945 (5-3)
65. PSU 1929 (6-3)
66. PSU 1944 (6-3)
67. PSU 1937 (5-3)
68. PSU 1965 (5-5)
69. PSU 1949 (5-4)
70. PSU 1955 (5-4)
71. PSU 1950 (5-3-1)
72. PSU 1984 (6-5)
73. PSU 1951 (5-4)
74. PSU 1926 (5-4)
75. PSU 1988 (5-6) – first losing team on the list … holy moly
76. PSU 2001 (5-6)
77. PSU 1966 (5-5)
78. PSU 1925 (4-4-1)
79. PSU 1935 (4-4)
80. PSU 1934 (4-4)
81. PSU 2000 (5-7)
82. PSU 1938 (3-4-1)
83. PSU 2004 (4-7)
84. PSU 1933 (3-3-1)
85. PSU 1930 (3-4-2)
86. PSU 1936 (3-5)
87. PSU 1928 (3-5-1)
88. PSU 2003 (3-9)
89. PSU 1932 (2-5)
90. PSU 1931 (2-8)

One of my best friends grew up a Penn State fan, and, upon hearing that the 1994 team wasn't in the Top 100, responded with "That tells me all I need to know about the quality of that list."  I was a little thrown that the '94 team didn't make the list, so I looked into it.  Not surprisingly, they had the best-rated offense of 1994, but what dropped them down the list was that their defense ranked only 30th.  Looking at the game-to-game results, I can see how that came about -- they gave up 21 points to 2-9 Temple, 29+ to Indiana, Illinois and Michigan State, 27 to Rutgers, etc.  I have little recollection of these games (I only remember the Rose Bowl), but if I had to guess, I'd say a lot of that scoring probably took place in garbage time.

With my main S&P+ data, I remove garbage time plays/possessions from the record, but obviously I don't have much to work with the further back we go.  Anyway, I'm guessing that's what held the 1994 team back.  Still, though, PSU is well-represented in the rankings, with two teams in the top 70, another (1982) at #103, and two more (1994, 1978) in the Top 150.

Anyway, just thought I would share.  One thing I find very fascinating about the rankings this system creates is that it looks past losses to a certain extent and looks for season-long dominance.  Obviously the top teams were both dominant and undefeated (#1-23 on the Top 100 list combined for just four losses and three ties), but there are some interesting results ... and some questionable ones.

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