ESPN SP+ ratings low on Mississippi State Football

The preseason ratings from SP+ are out, and they aren't particularly high on Mississippi State football.
Mississippi State Spring Football Game
Mississippi State Spring Football Game / Justin Ford/GettyImages

We're officially moving into the thick of the college football offseason, and one sign of that is the release of ESPN's Bill Connelly's SP+ ratings. SP+ is one of the more popular analytical models used for evaluating college football teams, and Connelly's 2024 preseason numbers are out.

And those ratings aren't the highest on Mississippi State football...

What is SP+?

SP+ is an analytical model created by ESPN college football analyst Bill Connelly. It is predictive metric designed to evaluate teams based on their overall efficiency, adjusting for tempo and quality of opponent. It's meant to show how well teams perform on a down by down basis, which is usually a good way of projecting success.

How is SP+ calculated?

In the preseason, SP+ takes into account three factors: returning production, recruiting rankings, and recent history. The returning production aspect of the formula makes up a large chunk of the preseason ratings. Once the season arrives and games are played, performance based metrics get factored in, and the preseason ratings get phased out of the formula.

Connelly gets deeper into explaining SP+ in this piece from 2017.

Where did Mississippi State finish in last season's SP+ ratings?

In 2023, Mississippi State finished 62nd in SP+ with a rating of 0.5. That put them 13th in the SEC. According to the ratings, State had the 77th best offense and the 51st best defense nationally.

Where does SP+ have Mississippi State entering 2024?

The preseason SP+ ratings for 2024 aren't particularly high on the Bulldogs. SP+ rates MSU 68th nationally with a rating of -2.3. Essentially, it believes MSU to be about two points worse than an average team. It projects them with the 78th best offense and 60th best defense.

Vanderbilt is the only SEC team rated lower. The ratings do, however, have State rated ahead of their three FBS non-conference opponents.

Why is SP+ so low on Mississippi State?

The biggest thing hurting Mississippi State in the preseason SP+ is their lack of returning production. As previously mentioned, returning production is the biggest factor in the preseason, and Connelly's numbers have State 116th in the country in that category, bringing back just 45% of their 2023 production.

That's the lowest of any SEC team, and it's why State is so low relative to the rest of the conference in the overall ratings. Returning production tends to have more of a direct impact on programs like State that don't recruit at the highest level. When they lose a lot of players, you tend to see a step back.

But what about the transfer portal? Obviously transfers have changed roster construction in the sport so that teams can reload more easily, and State went heavy in the portal this year. Connelly does factor in production from transfers into his numbers, but it's not weighted as heavily. And for State, with the amount of production they lost, just bringing in a lot of transfers wasn't going to raise them up much.

The recent history factor doesn't help them either after such an abysmal 2023 season. We'll see if Jeff Lebby can get Mississippi State football to outperform the metrics this fall.