For Better Or Worse

Dec 12, 2018

I used to do this yearly, but I'm not sure I've done it in the last few years (because it wouldn't have mattered): An early look at the football schedule for next season, predicting if each opponent will be better or worse than this season. This schedule is, uh, kind of important. It's time to win.

Let's just start with this season's S&P+ rankings this season for each team on next year's schedule:

Akron - #119
at UConn - #130
Eastern Michigan - #63
Nebraska - #55
at Minnesota - #58
OCTOBER 12, 2019
Michigan - #5
/OCTOBER 12, 2019
Wisconsin - #24
at Purdue - #37
Rutgers - #116
at Michigan State - #35
at Iowa - #26
Northwestern - #80

Let's start with the obvious. Yes, Eastern Michigan was better than Northwestern this year. In nearly every balanced-for-competition statistical way. Looking over the NERDstats, Northwestern had nine (NINE) games with an adjusted scoring margin in the single digits. Meaning, a game with statistics like those games is likely going to be a single score game right down to the end. Play the season again - just move this fumble from this spot in this game to that spot in that game, take those two dropped passes away from this important drive and put them in that meaningless drive, take the opponent's unsportsmanlike penalty and move it from that final game-deciding drive to the second quarter of a meaningless game - and they're certainly 6-6 on the year and quite possibly 5-7. But they're Northwestern, so they went to the Big Ten Championship game.

An example of this: You know how one baseball team will have a run differential of +7 on the season and they'll be 88-74 while another team will be +86 and somehow finish 82-80 because they'd lose a weekend series with three scores of 2-1 loss, 13-2 win, 5-4 loss? How if you just shifted all their runs around they could easily have a 90 win season? That's Northwestern. I hate their good fortune so incredibly much. (Yes, you make your own luck, I get it. Moving on.)

Let's now go through the schedule with a simple better or worse based on rosters. This is a simple run through every team's depth chart to see if they're bringing a lot of players back or if they were senior-heavy this season and will be rebuilding a little bit next year.

Akron - New coach, it will be his first game, they were 119th this year - they'll be really bad.
UConn - Does it matter? They were 130th out of 130 FBS teams this season.
E. Michigan - Worse. They graduate 12 starters and return 10.
Nebraska - Better. Perhaps the most "better" team in the country.
Minnesota - Better. They were nearly as young as Illinois this season.
Michigan - Worse. They'll still be great, but they'll lose a fair bit with seniors graduating and juniors declaring.
Wisconsin - Better. No chance they go 7-5 again.
Purdue - Worse. Losing eight senior starters on offense, and that's really hard to overcome.
Rutgers - Better, but after 1-11, how much better is better?
Michigan State - Better, but that's a weird one. They had a ton of returning starters this year from a 9-3 team and went 7-5.
Iowa - About the same? They lose six starters on defense, but it feels like Iowa will just forever be either 8-4 or 7-5.
Northwestern - Probably worse? Lose their QB and 10 other senior starters, but any time you say this they 23-21 their way to nine wins.

I'd say that's a very manageable schedule, no? One great opponent (Michigan) but then, really, everyone else has question marks. It's the Big Ten, and the good teams will rise to the top while the bad teams sink, meaning Iowa or Nebraska (or someone) will rise into the top-15 of the polls, so it's not like we're going to only play one ranked team. But the average number listed above? 62. And there's only five or six teams slated to be "better".

Which means I don't think we're going to see anything like the 2016 schedule (eight bowl teams, many of them teams that won 10+ games). Which means the expectations for 2019 are even higher. I'll take a stab at the final record of the teams listed above:

Akron 2-10
UConn 1-11
Eastern Michigan 4-8
Nebraska 8-4
Minnesota 7-5
Michigan 9-3
Wisconsin 9-3
Purdue 4-8
Rutgers 3-9
Michigan State 8-4
Iowa 8-4
Northwestern 6-6

We have to win seven of those games, right? I know I'm jumping way ahead of my normal "wait to see training camp, wait to see transfers, wait to see everything before even thinking about predicting the season" thing, but right now, that has to be seven wins right? Maybe eight?

Maybe I'm blinded by my "18 of 31" thing (with five games remaining this season I said that I wanted to see Lovie win 18 of his next 31 games - he went 1-4 to close so that's now "win 17 of the next 26"). Maybe this whole thing is headed towards Darrell Hazell territory (Purdue brought him back for a fourth season and then fired him when he started that fourth season 3-3) and I'm just too dumb to see it. But when I look at this team returning 18 starters and I see that schedule, I'll just say it this way: I think it would take some really, really poor coaching to not go to a bowl.

I guess I didn't list Illinois above on my better/worse list. My answer: no reason to not be significantly better.


escot on December 12 @ 11:49 AM CST

Illinois' S&P+ ranking was #103 for comparison.

IBFan on December 12 @ 12:42 PM CST

Robert think you might have had some orangenogg before you wrote this. Granted there is a lot we don't know but hoping/predicting for 7/8 wins may be a bit much.
4 wins likely in noncon and Rutgers.

We won't be favored in any road conf game.

We likely won't beat Michigan, Wisconsin home.

We would have to pick off an improved Nebraska and Nw to make a 6 win season.

I think that's tough. Maybe the incoming stars and the redshirts give us more depth to sustain 4 qtrs, add to offensive explosiveness, and LBs make the difference on D.

I hope, hope, hope for a bowl for the program and ongoing stability.

Cade Eddington, Rochester, Miami preferred walk on.....flip him

steveinseattle on December 12 @ 03:31 PM CST

Purdue will be better than 4-8. I don't know why Illini fans somehow feel superior to that program. Brohm is building something over there. We're losing that game next year.

Unless we hire a rock star as a DC and improve to around 50th place next year - and find some QB play - that's a rough schedule and we'll be lucky to get to 5 wins.

illiniranger on December 12 @ 06:12 PM CST

We were the #59 defense Lovies first season. that should be the minimum target for a defensive HC bringing 90% of his defense back in Year 4. Get to #59 on D and 6 Ws are out there.

illiniranger on December 12 @ 06:08 PM CST

Manageable, but still probably only favored in 4 of 12 and 1 of 9 conference games preseason. That many toss up games, lots will have to break in our favor and/or huge across the board improvement to get 7 wins.

Certainly possible, but I’d probably put the Ws over/under at 5.5 or 6

ktal on December 12 @ 08:54 PM CST

If your predictions for number of wins is accurate, we would only need to beat one team with a winning record to get a seventh win. Sounds doable.

I don't know if the defense is a 'click' thing. Can it just suddenly be MUCH better? Because if it can (and does), we should definitely get to seven wins with those opponent records.

illiniranger on December 13 @ 12:29 PM CST

the comp for the D is the 1998 Illinois offense becoming the 1999 Illinois offense. The 1998 team scored 79 points in conference play for an average of 9.875 ppg. The 1999 team scored 205 points in conference play for an average of 25.625 ppg. But the real story is the last 4 games (including the bowl) where they scored 178 points in 4 games for 44.5 ppg. So there is some historical precedent for a team to completely flip the switch from one year to another.

I think a fair goal for this defense is to meet or exceed the defense in Lovie's first year, which would be about 59th.

iluvrt on December 13 @ 06:56 PM CST

I'll believe it when I see it

Eagle on December 14 @ 11:23 AM CST

I think there are 4 solid chances for a win (Akron, UConn, EMich and Rutgers). Then we have to upset 2 of PU, MN, IA or NW. It is doable, but I don't think likely. Obviously a lot depends on grad transfers, one in particular who I don't think we get. I predict 5 wins. Obviously if we get 6 wins and a bowl, everyone is ecstatic and Lovie is safe. The real question is what happens with Lovie if we only win 5 games next year? I think JW keeps him and we finally win 6 in 2020.

Bear8287 on December 15 @ 01:30 PM CST

An example of this: You know how one baseball team will have a run differential of +7 on the season and they'll be 88-74 while another team will be +86 and somehow finish 82-80 ...

Or say go 83-78 and then win a World Series.

... hate their good fortune so incredibly much.


Speak Your Mind

Please login or register to post comments on the IlliniBoard.