There's a lot of numbers to go through this week. So no clever intro here. Just right to the numbers. All I have to do is write a few lines of text that will show up on the front page of the site as normal text. If I include anything with a link (or even in bold text) it shows up all weird on the front page. So if you've ever wondered why I'm so intro-y, well, there you go. I've written enough words now, so let's get to the numbies.
We've reached the part of the season where you're beginning to wonder why we're not climbing in the NERDstats like we're climbing in the polls. We're now #18 in the AP poll but the SP+ has us at 30? SOMEONE GET ME BILL CONNELLY'S EMAIL ADDRESS.
So I figured I should begin this week's look into the numbers by talking (from 30,000 feet) about forward-looking numbers and backwards-looking numbers. Actually, I don't have to explain it at all because Bill Connelly has done that for me. Time for some quoted text.
On SP+ being "forward-facing" and not a look back at how a team has performed:
SP+ is indeed intended to be predictive and forward-facing. It is not a resume ranking that gives credit for big wins or particularly brave scheduling -- no good predictive system is. It is simply a measure of the most sustainable and predictable aspects of football. If you're lucky or unimpressive in a win, your rating will probably fall. If you're strong and unlucky in a loss, it will probably rise.
A simple way (my interpretation) to say that: it doesn't care if you won or lost; it simply looks to see if you're doing the things that winning teams do. And, just like KenPom for basketball, they include a certain percentage from the preseason projections for a long time (throughout most of the season) because if you didn't, your early numbers would have some weird outcome like "Rice is the #6 team in the country after two weeks". It will take a while for a Wisconsin or a Notre Dame to fall and it will take a while for an Illinois or a Syracuse to rise. And for good reason. Need to prove it's not a fluke.
Connelly leads nearly every article explaining that the formula is "forward-facing", but he still gets people screaming at him. Maybe some of you did some screaming at him on Sunday when the updated SP+ came out with Illinois at 30 and Minnesota at 10. "WHAT?? WE JUST DOMINATED MINNESOTA. HOW CAN YOUR FORMULA BE THIS BAD, BILL??"
That's not what a forward-facing formula is looking at. It sees that Minnesota has out-recruited Illinois, had more contributors returning this season, and had better numbers the first six weeks than Illinois. If you're wondering why Minnesota was favored by 6.5 going into this game, that's more-or-less why. Vegas sportsbooks have their own forward-facing formulas very similar to the SP+ (which are then adjusted by humans for things like "DeVito doubtful"). And they get it right more often than they get it wrong.
What's that? You want to know what Connelly's "looking back" numbers look like? They're right there in his weekly article. And we're 14th.
Here's how he describes his "Resume SP+" numbers:
As mentioned above, SP+ is intended to be a power rating, not a resume evaluation tool, but Resume SP+ attempts to fill that latter gap. It is a look at two things: (1) how the average SP+ top five team would be projected to perform against your schedule (in terms of scoring margin) and (2) how your scoring margin compares to (1). Throw in a seven-point penalty for every loss a team has suffered, and you can say that this is what the CFP rankings would look like if SP+ were in charge.
Here's his current Resume SP+:
1. Ohio State (6-0): +8.5 PPG
2. Georgia (7-0): +8.3
3. Tennessee (6-0): +0.0
4. Michigan (7-0): -2.0
5. Ole Miss (7-0): -2.9
6. Alabama (6-1): -3.5
7. TCU (6-0): -6.3
8. Clemson (7-0): -8.8
9. Syracuse (6-0): -9.4
10. UCLA (6-0): -11.7
11. UCF (5-1): -13.1
12. USC (6-1): -13.9
13. Texas (5-2): -15.0
14. Illinois (6-1): -16.1
15. Oklahoma State (5-1): -16.4
Feel better? I certainly do. After 7 weeks, we are the 14th best team in college football.
Will Whitman extend Bielema this week or next?
While we're talking SP+, I thought it would be good to talk about the score, not the ranking. Our current SP+ is 10.8, and we need to talk about that.
Here's the best way to talk about it. I've used this chart for several years now. It charts every SP+ score going back to 1970. Our best score wasn't 1983 and wasn't 2001 - it was 1994. A 10-1 team that went 6-5 (some bad luck, lots of foot-shooting).
This chart on CFBD hasn't been updated since last week so I put a little dot right where the current 2022 score (10.8) would be. Take that dot and trace it back to your birth.
Keep in mind that preseason numbers are still holding that down. If we continue playing like this, it will keep rising and rising and rising. By the end of the year, all of the preseason assumptions will be gone and that number might be... way up there.
I'll just make a list of what 10.8 means here:
- This is already the third-best season since 2000. At this rate, I'm pretty sure 2022 will be our best season in the 21st century. Yes, that means better than 2001 and 2007.
- 1999 is actually the high water mark of the last 25 years. NERDstatically, 1999 was a better season than 2001 (2001 was one of our luckier seasons).
- For Illinois, that line at 10 is a great way to define "now that was a great team".
- We've only gotten into double-digits five times since I was in high school: 1989, 1994, 1999, 2001, and 2007. So just being at 10.8 is absolutely incredible.
- We've only cleared 15 three times in my lifetime: 1989, 1994, and 1999. Neither 2001 nor 2007 got there. Feels like this team will clear that bar.
Here's another way to look at this. The Illinois line vs. the Northwestern line:
Think about all the good seasons that Fitzee has had at Northwestern. His very best season: 11.2 in the SP+ back in 2017. Northwestern has only ever cleared the 10 line three times: 1995, 2000, and 2017. The current Illinois SP+: 10.8. Incredible.
One more thought before moving on: the Covid Season really did a number on Northwestern fans. Take that blip away in 2020 and they've been in steep decline ever since 2017. But that one-year blip (in a year with wildly-incomplete data) kept all the purple people thinking that everything was fine.
(Everything is not fine. Northwestern has "improved" this season... to the level of 2012 Illini football.)
IlliniBoard NERDstat Index
I know you're all here for the INI so let's get to it. And keep in mind, most of these are forward-looking like the SP+.
The four metrics that go into the INI:
SP+ (Bill Connelly)
FPI (ESPN's analytics team)
FEI (Brian Fremeau)
KFord (Kelly Ford)
And here's our current ranking in each:
113 / 4 = 28.25. The INI for October 18, 2022: 28th
I wonder if Whitman is going to extend Bielema by 5:00 pm or if he'll have it done by 4:00 pm.
This is the hardest one for me to process. This is just a formula here, not the opinion of someone. And I can't comprehend it. The FEI projects our wins this way:
Odds that the Illini will finish with...
6 wins: 0% chance
7 wins: 2% chance
8 wins: 16% chance
9 wins: 40% chance
10 wins: 36% chance
11 wins: 6% chance
Again, just a formula. It looks at who you've played and what you've done in those games and says "teams that play those teams and to that well are probably going to win XX games". And yes, I put two X's there instead of one because we might win 10 games.
I'll just make a list of the things my brain says when I look at those numbers:
- "0% we lose out? Come on. ZERO percent? I lived through 2011. I know what's possible better than that laptop."
- "2% chance we only win 7 games means there's a 98% chance we win 8 or more. WHAT??"
- "If nine wins is at 40% and ten wins is at 36% then this formula sees us right on the line between 9-3 and 10-2 which would mean..." ~passes out~
- ~comes to~ "Actually the correct way to math that is to add everything above 10 and below 9. So it's a 58% chance we win nine games or less and a 42% chance we win ten games or mo..." ~passes out again~
I guess it does make sense when I look at the schedule. We'll be favored to beat Nebraska, Michigan State, and Northwestern, the Purdue line will be close, and Michigan will be a heavy favorite. If we beat Nebraska, Michigan State, and Northwestern but lose to Purdue and Michigan that's 9-3. If we beat Nebraska, Michigan State, Purdue, and Northwestern but lose to Michigan that's 10-2. And maybe 9-3 looks like "lose at Nebraska but somehow beat Michigan" and maybe 10-2 looks like "beat Michigan but somehow lose at home to Michigan State".
So yeah, I do think I can process this. But I can't process this, you know?
Oh, you know.