Comfortable Numbers

Nov 2, 2022

Maybe I should begin by talking about the most important number of all: sixteen. As of last night, we are the 16th-best college football team in the United States of America. I happen to disagree - I think we should rank somewhere around 12th - but I'm not going to shake a stick at someone saying we're 87th percentile.

I do want to note one thing about those numbers, though...

Loss Bias

I don't really know what term to use, but I was struck by the rankings of LSU and Penn State last night. My point is not "stupid committee fell for the names on the jersey." I'm just surprised that they're not influenced by losses. I understand adding Strength Of Schedule to the mix, but this list... this list feels a little overboard.

Penn State, with two losses, was ranked one spot ahead of Illinois (with one loss). At first I tilted my head, but after some thought, it makes sense on paper. Penn State lost to Michigan and Ohio State. A team that lost to Michigan and Ohio State is probably better than a team that only lost to Indiana. Switch the schedules and Penn State is probably 8-0 and Illinois is 6-2. I can understand the argument.

But looking further, there's LSU. Two losses and #10. Who did they lose to? Florida State and Tennessee. I get that Tennessee is a "good loss", but can you just completely toss it out? It feels like the Committee just completely tossed it out (like they tossed out Penn State losing to Ohio State). I guess a loss to one of the top teams is like not playing at all?

Maybe I'm wrong here and my "strength of schedule doesn't really matter with football" brain is taking over, but to me, it feels like strength of schedule is being overemphasized. In my view, there's too much transitive property being applied. I spend a lot of time explaining to people that App State losing to Texas State after beating Texas A&M is not the shocker they think it is. This is college football. These things happen every day. You cannot apply "if App State beat A&M then they should be able to easily beat every FCS team in Texas" here. Every game is a battle for survival no matter who that team beat or lost to.

So with football I get very "toss out what you think about 'tough schedules' and go with the teams who have found ways to win". That's not the best way to describe it, but this is just the intro before I get to the numbies, so I'm going with it. I think of it like the NFL Standings. At playoff time the NFL doesn't say "the Giants going 9-8 after having played every NFC East team twice is way more impressive than the Falcons going 10-7 in the NFC South - give the playoff spot to the Giants". You just follow the loss totals. More losses, well, too bad, you miss the playoffs.

I get why SOS has to be applied for the CFP Rankings. You can't have an 11-1 MAC team ahead of an 11-1 SEC team. I very clearly understand the line drawn between the Power Five and the Group Of Five.

But I'm not sure I understand LSU 10th? Six home games and then two road wins over teams that are both 1-4 in the SEC. Even trying to think like the Committee thinks, I struggle to put 6-2 LSU ahead of 7-1 UCLA. Unless they're giving absolute free passes for LSU losing to #1 Tennessee.

So I guess that's my issue. Looking up and down the list, every blowout loss to a team in the top 5 (LSU to Tennessee, Oregon to Georgia, Penn State to Michigan) was met with "yeah, sure, but it was Georgia...". It's what I mean by "loss bias." If you lost to one of the undefeated teams (like, say, K-State to TCU), it was seemingly met with "I mean, come on, are those even losses?"

It bothers me. But there are more important things to discuss. So let's move on.

Resume SP+

Now that it's November I'm going to stop updating the IlliniBoard Nerdstat Index. A quick explanation as to why I'm going to stop giving you the INI:

It's now completely lagging. And even the people who put those NERDstats together will tell you that it's lagging. The systems are built to prevent an upstart (like Illinois or Oregon State) from climbing too high. History tells us that upstarts are unsustainable (and I believe that to be true), so there's a governor on all the NERDstats right now.

If I updated the INI, you'd just get angry. Let me give you an example.

Just using SP+, you would see Minnesota at #20 and Illinois at #24 and start screaming. What good is a NERDstat if it thinks Minnesota is better than Illinois?

It doesn't really "think" that. It's forward looking. It still has preseason numbers involved. It's (partly) saying "Minnesota has been to eight bowl games the last 10 years and Illinois has been to two so Minnesota's 5-3 is probably a lot more sustainable than Illinois' 7-1". As I've said every week that I've written this, I agree with that. Programs (and coaches) who have proven they're able to sustain something season after season should be acknowledged. It's how we want all of the basketball NERDstats to view Brad Underwood.

So if you're just looking at the current season, well, that's why Bill Connelly puts together his "Resume SP+". It's his attempt to say "based on this season alone, if I'm the CFP Committee, here's how I would have things."

And here's how he would have things (and I'm including his description of "Resume SP+" for further clarification):

Since we've officially reached CFP rankings season, I'm also including resume SP+ rankings in this piece each week.

As mentioned above, SP+ is intended to be a power rating, not a resume evaluation tool, but resume SP+ attempts to fill that 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 that. 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.

(Note: Because the original scoring scale didn't make a ton of intuitive sense, I'm presenting it in a slightly different way -- like a "games back" column in baseball standings. The top-ranked team sets the scale, and I'll list everyone below it by how many points they are behind the No. 1 team.)

Here is this week's resume SP+ top 15:

1. Ohio State (8-0)
2. Georgia (8-0): 2.3 points behind
3. Tennessee (8-0): 6.6
4. Michigan (8-0): 11.1
5. Alabama (7-1): 12.6
6. TCU (8-0): 16.8
7. Clemson (8-0): 21.0
8. Oregon (7-1): 24.9
9. Ole Miss (8-1): 25.3
10. Illinois (7-1): 25.6
11. USC (7-1): 25.8
12. Kansas State (6-2): 28.8
13. UCLA (7-1): 29.1
14. Tulane (7-1): 30.4
15. LSU (6-2): 31.0

Just looking at that list, it follows a lot closer to the way I see things (and not just because Illinois is 10th). Ole Miss should be ahead of LSU even though they lost to LSU. Clemson should be 7th, not 4th, with Michigan taking the fourth playoff spot. Tulane should be getting a lot more credit for beating K-State. Tennessee just can't vault all the way to #1 based on Alabama missing a field goal.

And the Illini defense is still way better than anyone is giving it credit for.

One final thing before moving on. The SP+ rating is still important. Our number is still climbing (given that our preseason numbers continue to be an anchor holding us back), so here's where this season currently stacks up compared to the last 50 years. The ten highest-rated Illini teams (using the SP+ methodology which ignores wins and only looks at statistics + margin of victory):

  1. 1994 - 21.7
  2. 1989 - 20.4
  3. 1999 - 17.1
  4. 2001 - 14.9
  5. 1983 - 14.0
  6. 2007 - 12.7
  7. 2022 - 12.6
  8. 1982 - 11.6
  9. 1984 - 11.4
  10. 1990 - 10.1

(Yes, SP+ has 1994 as our best team of the last 50 years. An 11 or 12-win team that went 7-5 because they lost five games by 22 points. Should have beaten #2 Penn State, should have beaten #11 Michigan - I could write a book about the 1994 season).

My guess right now (once all preseason handicaps are fully removed by the end of the season) is that our SP+ will be somewhere around 17-20. As long as it's higher than 17.1, then statistically, this is the third-best Illini team of my lifetime.

If it's 21.8 or higher, then statistically, this is the best Illini team of my lifetime.

Projected Wins

Let's close with projected wins. Just because it's so much fun. Here's our projected wins using the FEI (Brian Fremeau):

7 wins: 1% chance
8 wins: 10%
9 wins: 39%
10 wins: 43%
11 wins: 7%

50% chance we win 10 or more, 50% chance we win 9 or less. And keep in mind that this is only regular season wins. I have a new stretch goal for this season, and I want to talk about it. I'll eventually get there, but let's work our way there through this story first:

My youngest son (who is now 27, which means I'm older than dirt), went with me to the Nebraska game. We sat in the stands. As we walked in, he was rather amazed by the size and scale of Nebraska's Memorial Stadium. It didn't compute with him. "All of this for Nebraska?"

For someone younger - even someone who just turned 27 - Nebraska isn't anything. They're not a historic program. My son graduated high school in 2014 right when Nebraska was finished winning nine games every year under Bo Pelini (but seemingly never more - they'd always find a way to lose four games). And then Nebraska he's known since he became an adult is the Nebraska you see today. Their last bowl game was 2016. To him, Nebraska embarking on their 6th consecutive losing season wasn't a big deal. It's just what Nebraska football does.

So I explained to him what Nebraska football used to be. That from 1970 to 2000, they were Alabama. Everything he thinks about Alabama at age 27 is everything I thought about Nebraska when I was 27. (Just looked it up - when I was 27 years old, Nebraska finished #2 in the polls. It was their last appearance in the top-5.)

The Nebraska stat that blew his mind: During the entire Tom Osborne era (1973 to 1997), they never lost more than 3 games. Twenty-five seasons and they either won 9, 10, 11, 12, or 13 games. When we got back to the hotel, I researched the numbers and dropped them on him Sunday morning:

Nebraska football for him from when he was of drinking age (when he turned 21 through him turning 27 this year): 22-42
Nebraska football for me when I was the same age (age 21 through right after I turned 27): 70-7

That led to a discussion on how many more games you play when you're good (conference championship games plus bowl games). And I had the page open so I told him that Nebraska won double digit games 15 out of Osborne's 25 seasons (the other 10 seasons they won nine games), and that Osborne won 11-or-more nine times. Which got me to thinking: have we ever won 11 games?

We have not.

  • We got to 10 wins in 1983 but lost to UCLA in the Rose Bowl.
  • We got our 10th win in the Citrus Bowl during the 1989 season (1990 Citrus Bowl).
  • We got to 10 wins in 2001 but lost to LSU in the Sugar Bowl.

So that led me to this stretch goal. And please note the word "stretch" here. An 8-4 season (which would mean something like three losses in a row and then a win over Northwestern) would still be an incredible season. We've already cleared nearly every bar.

But my stretch goal: win 11 games for the first time in school history. The path seems fairly simple at this point. Win the three games where we'll be favored (MSU, Purdue, and Northwestern) and then win either the Big Ten Championship Game (lol) or the bowl game. Do that and we get to 11.

I'm not afraid to dream about it. I'm not afraid to talk about it. Win three games + a bowl and I'll make shirts:

This One Goes To 11


Douglascountyillinifan on November 2, 2022 @ 12:28 PM

It is incredible to me that 67 days ago, you and the numbers were predicting 4-8, and with good reason. I will gladly give you my $$ for a "this one goes to 11" tee shirt. Not sure what the slogan will be if we win 12.

IllinifaninGopherland on November 2, 2022 @ 02:08 PM

What if we win 14?

CraigG on November 3, 2022 @ 01:39 AM

They make different shirts for those...and we won't need Robert to make a limited run

Duce20 on November 3, 2022 @ 02:37 PM


McMurtry113 on November 2, 2022 @ 12:31 PM

I am probably an anomaly on this board in that I only own one Illini article of clothing. But I can guarantee you I am buying the "This One Goes To 11" t-shirt if it happens!

Nall23 on November 2, 2022 @ 12:34 PM

Good article. But for the "11th" win, shouldn't at Michigan also be included as an option? I recognize that game happens prior to Northwestern (so it would be our 10th win), but the way that I think about it is that we need to win the 3 games that we're favored in (to get to 10 wins) and then 1 of at Michigan, Big Ten Championship Game or Bowl Game.

HailToTheOrange on November 2, 2022 @ 02:21 PM

totally agree. Michigan is absolutely beatable, even in the big house

HNLINI on November 2, 2022 @ 12:38 PM

If we are fortunate enough to win 11 games, I sure hope we don't become that fan base that then complains about 8, 9, and 10 win seasons for the next few years. Heck, if we are fortunate enough to win 8, 9, or 10 games this year, I hope we don't spend subsequent years complaining about how we can't break the 10 win barrier.

mmyers74 on November 2, 2022 @ 02:11 PM

Ah... but you do. You really do hope that (or you should).

B/c if we become a fan base that is complaining about winning 8, 9 (or god forbid) 10 games, that means that we have actually and fully flipped the narrative of IL football.

I truly do understand your sentiment, and I also hope people enjoy the wins (and the new level of success that I hope we can sustain)... but in the end, trust me. You want that fanbase.

(b/c that's a fanbase that fills a stadium.)

HNLINI on November 2, 2022 @ 12:45 PM

Also, kudos for referencing both Spinal Tap and Pink Floyd in the article/title. It is much appreciated by this product of the 80's. If I didn't know any better, I would say that you were referencing the prior glory days in the mid-80s. Was "Loss Bias" an (un)intentional Len Bias reference?

Norcal Illini on November 2, 2022 @ 12:55 PM

It's interesting how the best years came in bunches. And the 1983 team that beat all of the other 9 teams in the Big Ten (actually 10 at the time) is only no. 5 on the list.

Dan Allen on November 2, 2022 @ 02:57 PM

One point I would suggest clarifying is that college football did not add a twelfth regular season game until the mid-2000s. Up until then there were only 11 regular season games and you only played a 12th if you were in a bowl or in a conference with a conference title game, which the B1G has only had since 2011.

To get 11 wins prior to the mid-2000s you had to go 10-1 and win your bowl or 11-0 in the regular season. That makes Nebraska’s records under Osborne even more impressive, IMO.

Efremwinters84 on November 3, 2022 @ 04:06 AM

Best Teams Ever: I decided to look back at just "cumulative margin of victory" which I sort of equate to the eye-test --- using regular season stats only. The five historical teams all played 11 regular season games, prior to their bowl games. Naturally, bowl performance/results alter these figures.

Regular Season Point Differential:

1983: +170

1989: +140

2022: +137 (so far in 8 games)

1994: +123

2001: +118

1999: + 71

Note: The 1963 Rose Bowl champs were +74 over 9 games.

Ellisrt1031 on November 3, 2022 @ 06:24 AM

I agree with a couple posters that I don't understand why 1983 wouldn't be our best team. Beat 4 top 20 teams. The only thing I can think of is the blowout loss to UCLA hurt badly.

LongLiveTheChief98 on November 3, 2022 @ 06:04 PM

Curious to know what our Post Game Win Expectancy numbers for all our games up to this point. We were way up there in the national rankings for that earlier in the season, and haven’t seen anything recently. Outside of the Iowa game, we’ve been pretty dominant in every other game so I have to think we’ve gotten even better there. Would be nice to throw those numbers at people who think that Illinois has simply played a weak schedule and/or aren’t really that good.

on July 3, 2023 @ 03:59 PM


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