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Top analytics tool pegs Penn State football as ‘mega-blueblood’

ESPN’s SP+ recently named Penn State football as one of the “mega-bluebloods” of college football. But the inclusion of the Nittany Lions hasn’t come without some serious backlash.



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Apr 13, 2024; University Park, PA, USA; Penn State Nittany Lions head coach James Franklin looks on after exiting the team bus prior to the Blue White spring game at Beaver Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Matthew O'Haren-USA TODAY Sports

Penn State football will look to take advantage of an expanded 12-team College Football Playoff during the 2024 season. While they haven’t been able to get over the hump in recent years, the Nittany Lions have been able to reach levels of success in the sport that most can only hope to achieve. The success has shown, as recently famed ESPN analyst Bill Connelly pegged Penn State as one of the nine “mega-blueblood” programs of college football.

Connelly: Penn State football is a “mega-blueblood”

Bill Connelly of ESPN is known for his SP+ metric, which takes into account efficiency metrics and strength of schedule in addition to the wins and losses on the field. In college football, not everyone’s schedule is created equal, especially in the ever-changing conference realignment.

According to the SP+ percentile rating, there are nine schools that have averaged a score of at least 12.5 since World War II. Connelly termed these teams as “mega-bluebloods,” because of their consistency and large gap between them and the rest of college football.

Penn State football actually has a 13.4 rating in that time frame, tied with Michigan for the fifth on the list. The Nittany Lions have seen more success in the past 80 years than a number of the traditionally named bluebloods, like Texas (13.1), USC (12.0) , and Nebraska (10.1). For reference, four teams averaged at least a 14.0 rating, nine averaged at least a 12.5 rating, and sixteen averaged at least a 10.0 rating.

An observation that Connelly made was that the nine mega-bluebloods have seemingly been getting stronger in recent years. The nine best seasons by those teams happened from 1971-74, 2017-19, and 2022-23. In fact, the nine teams actually just enjoyed their best collective season in the entire 80-year sample size.

Inclusion of Nittany Lions garners backlash

Immediately after the post, Connelly’s comment section was flooded with college football fans questioning why Penn State football is on the list. It actually led to Connelly quoting his original post after so much blowback for including the Nittany Lions.

“Didn’t realize this was going to lead to an hours long Penn State is Good At Football?? argument in my mentions, but c’est la vie (that’s life),” he wrote.

One comment on the original post said, “Penn State snuck in there somehow,” To which Connelly responded, “By being consistently good to great for most of 75 years, yes.”

Penn State football has had 11+ win seasons every decade from the 1960s through the 2020s. That is an accomplishment that nobody else on the list can claim. In the last eight years alone, the Nittany Lions have made five New Year’s Six bowl games. The Blue and White were a Peach Bowl win away from being the first program to win all of the New Year’s Six bowls.

Often the general public and even Penn State fans have their judgment of the school clouded by the lack of “championship” success under James Franklin. While Penn State hasn’t broken through and won a National Championship since the 1986 season, the Nittany Lions have quietly been one of the most consistent programs in all of college football, rivaled only by Oklahoma, Alabama, Ohio State, and Notre Dame. Not exactly a list of programs to be ashamed of being behind, especially when you take into account the success that those four have had in the past 25 seasons.

Ready to take the next step?

Despite all of the historical success, college football can be a cruel sport. Just as fast as a team rises, it can fall just as quickly. Take a look at schools like USC or Nebraska, teams that are often still considered to be on the list of seven or eight bluebloods, but that haven’t lived up to the hype on a consistent basis in recent years.

Nebraska hasn’t been over the 12.5 rating mark in 14 seasons, while USC did it just twice between 1983-2001 and once between 2017-2023. The Cornhuskers, in particular, had one of the most dominant programs in college football during the 1990s but now haven’t made a bowl game since 2017.

This isn’t to say Penn State football would have that dramatic of a drop-off, since it does have the benefit of a better geographic recruiting footprint than Nebraska. But it doesn’t mean Penn State couldn’t drop similar to the level of USC or Miami.

That is why many have deemed the 2024 season to be a crucial year for James Franklin and the Penn State football team. With the new 12-team CFP, there aren’t as many excuses as to why the Nittany Lions can’t finish a minimum of 10-2 and make the expanded field. That includes factoring in the increased difficulty of the new Big Ten schedule.

What we can learn from the SP+ numbers as a whole is that being consistently good is a tough achievement. But as James Franklin said in 2018, going from good to elite is a whole different ball game.

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Former contributor at Nittany Central, Patrick joined Basic Blues Nation in 2023 as the Social Media Director, Penn State Wrestling beat writer, and producer of the Penn State Roar Room spaces. Patrick is also a contributor of Penn State football, basketball, and ice hockey news for the site.


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