College football's luckiest and unluckiest teams in 2021: Fate not on Nebraska's side

Scott Frost's Cornhuskers suffered nine losses by single digits. David Stacy/Icon Sportswire

Nebraska's least likely loss, amid a sea of unlikely losses, was a bit of a deep cut.

It wasn't their 30-22 loss to Illinois, which featured a trio of special teams miscues and a plus-51 yardage advantage for the Huskers. It wasn't their 32-29 loss to Michigan, in which they outgained the eventual Big Ten champs by 1.5 yards per play but lost a fumble with 1:45 to set up a game-winning chip-shot field goal.

It wasn't their 23-16 loss to Oklahoma, or their 30-23 loss to Minnesota, or their 35-28 loss to Wisconsin, all of which were beset by red zone failures (plus another smattering of special teams gaffes).

It wasn't their 23-20 loss to Michigan State, which turned on a late-game punt return and was iced by an overtime interception despite a plus-186 NU yardage advantage. It wasn't even their 28-21 loss to Iowa, in which they built a 21-6 lead and watched it waft away with a blocked punt touchdown, a safety and a game-clinching turnover at the Iowa 2.

It was actually the Purdue loss, the sixth of their nine single-digit losses in 2021 as the Huskers set about a quest to become the greatest 3-9 team of all time. In this one, they outgained the Boilermakers by 2.8 yards per play and mostly avoided red zone issues. Purdue even missed two field goals! But quarterback Adrian Martinez threw four interceptions; one was returned for a touchdown, and two preempted fourth-quarter comeback attempts. The Huskers fell 28-23 despite a postgame win expectancy of 94%.

What is postgame win expectancy? It is my look at the key, predictive stats produced by a given game -- a lot of which ends up in the machine that produces my SP+ rankings. In essence, it takes these key stats, tosses them into the air and declares, "With these stats, you could have expected to win this game X% of the time." For a team like Georgia, which romped through the regular season with ease, it produces a bunch of 100% efforts -- 11, in fact, for the Dawgs. For a team getting by on close wins, it can hint at doom to come. UTSA, for instance, began the season 11-0, but two of those wins featured postgame win expectancies of 10% or lower, and only three were 100 percenters. Regression to the mean smacked the Roadrunners around pretty well in a 45-23 loss at North Texas in late November.