The Trend Is Our Friend

May 9, 2023

Back from vacation. Well, not really all "vacation" per se - I traveled with my wife while she worked for part of it - but I'll sleep in my own bed for the first time in 10 days as soon as I'm done typing these words. This was one of those "hold the mail" kind of trips where you get someone to mow the lawn while you're gone. And it was quite helpful in recharging my writing brain.

Writing tip for all you kids hoping to write words on the internet someday: you can buckle down and try to find your creativity in a ninth re-write or you can go stare at this:

For me, the staring works.

Now that I'm back in front of a keyboard, I want to write about something I tweeted the other day: the initial over/under win totals set for the Big Ten teams. Here's the totals put out there by DraftKings:

Before we talk about that 6.5 for Illinois, let's talk about the previous two years. Let's go year-by-year here. Here's the opening over/under (as set by DraftKings each May), the actual record, and whether the over or the under hit:

Ohio State 11 -- 10-2 -- under
Wisconsin 9.5 -- 8-4 -- under
Penn State 9 -- 7-5 -- under
Iowa 8.5 -- 10-2 -- over
Indiana 8 -- 2-10 -- under
Michigan 8 -- 11-1 -- over
Minnesota 7 -- 8-4 -- over
Northwestern 6.5 -- 3-9 -- under
Nebraska 6 -- 3-9 -- under
Maryland 5.5 -- 6-6 -- over
Purdue 5 -- 8-4 -- over
Michigan State 4 -- 10-2 -- over
Rutgers 4 -- 5-7 -- over
Illinois 3 -- 5-7 -- over

I feel like a lot of those bad numbers were a function of the wacky Covid year in 2020. Michigan wasn't as bad as they looked in 2020 and Indiana wasn't as good as they looked. Vegas put them both at 8; Indiana went 2-10 and Michigan went to the playoff.

Ohio State 10.5 -- 11-1 -- over
Michigan 9.5 -- 12-0 -- over
Penn State 8.5 -- 10-2 -- over
Wisconsin 8.5 -- 6-6 -- under
Iowa 7.5 -- 7-5 -- under
Michigan State 7.5 -- 5-7 -- under
Minnesota 7.5 -- 8-4 -- over
Nebraska 7.5 -- 4-8 -- under
Purdue 7.5 -- 8-4 -- over
Maryland 6 -- 7-5 -- over
Illinois 4.5 -- 8-4 -- over
Indiana 4 -- 4-8 -- push
Northwestern 4 -- 1-11 -- under
Rutgers 4 -- 4-8 -- push

As I've said before, I'm a huge fan of preseason over/under numbers because it brings all offseason discussions back to reality. The reason my tweet above has 300,000 views is because that tweet spread around to other fanbases like Iowa and Minnesota and they all passed it around to each other screaming AIN'T NO WAY WE ONLY WIN SEVEN GAMES - TEN MINIMUM.

The only defense one has against preseason optimism is a list like this. You're insulted, Mr. Iowa fan, that DraftKings thinks you're somewhere between 7 and 8 wins? You'd "bet your life" that Iowa will win at least 8 games? Well then take out a second mortgage and put everything you have on the over. If you won't do that, then you're not really confident at all. It's all just talk.

And given that these are real, bet-able numbers, and given that Vegas isn't going to just throw out a number that loses them a lot of money, I believe that evaluating the Vegas expectation + the actual result tells us a lot. So let's do the math. Starting with 2021 (the year Bret Bielema arrived in Champaign), let's look at the differential between Vegas expectations and actual results.

Illinois: +5.5
Michigan: +5.5
Michigan State: +3.5
Purdue: +3.5
Minnesota: +2.0
Maryland: +1.5
Iowa: +1.0
Rutgers: +1.0
Ohio State: -0.5
Penn State: -0.5
Wisconsin: -4.0
Indiana: -6.0
Nebraska: -6.5
Northwestern: -6.5

When I compare that to Big Ten Twitter the last two seasons, it holds up shockingly well. Only Michigan State fails to hold. Some examples:

  • Even Nebraska fans had joined the "why does Vegas think Nebraska will win actual games?" by 2021 (and especially in 2022).
  • Michigan had two consecutive seasons of Big Ten fans telling them they were not back while they were actually back.
  • Ohio State lived on the exact same "one single game makes or breaks the entire season" edge they've been living on for a while.
  • Two straight seasons of Wisconsin fans in denial, believing that if they say Braelon Allen's name 10 times, he becomes Ron Dayne.
  • The come-down following Indiana's Covid-induced "we built something!" fever dream was quite harsh.
  • Northwestern fans and their slow acceptance of what was actually occurring.

Also, Illinois far-exceeding everyone's expectations (including Vegas) two years in a row. That trend, my friends, is our friend.

So let's look at 2023 again (and I'll add-in Rutgers since someone sent it to me):

Michigan 10.5
Ohio State 10.5
Penn State 9.5
Wisconsin 9
Iowa 7.5
Maryland 7
Illinois 6.5
Minnesota 6.5
Nebraska 6
Michigan State 5.5
Purdue 5.5
Rutgers 4.5
Indiana 3.5
Northwestern 3.5

To me, the most interesting part of that (besides the fact that Vegas has us with more than 6 wins for the first time since 2011) is how they backed off all of the 7.5's from the year before. Iowa, Michigan State, Minnesota, Nebraska, and Purdue were all at 7.5 last May. This May, Iowa is still at 7.5, but Michigan State and Purdue dropped to 5.5, Nebraska dropped to 6, and Minnesota dropped to 6.5. That generally holds with the way I framed the Big Ten West when the Returning Production numbers came out:

This will likely be the final year of the Big Ten West, and here's the seven teams in order of returning production:

  1. Wisconsin (new coach)
  2. Nebraska (new coach)
  3. Purdue (new coach)
  4. Illinois
  5. Minnesota
  6. Iowa
  7. Northwestern

Three teams ahead of us, all learning new schemes. Three teams behind us, all replacing a lot.

Wisconsin has the most returning production in the West (and probably the most talent), so I get why Vegas put them back up at 9 wins. But with a new coach (and a new, passing-centric offense?), you never know what will happen in Year One. Same with Purdue and Nebraska (a decent amount coming back, but with brand new schemes, confusion ahead). Why did Iowa hold at 7.5 and Minnesota drop to 6.5? Both lost a fair bit.

Illinois? I think 6.5 is probably a really good number. The schedule is good (crossovers are Indiana, Maryland, and Penn State), non-conference is a little tricky (Kansas, Toledo, and FAU all top-10 in Returning Production), quarterback and secondary questions abound. I was expecting a hard 6, but 6.5 sounds about right. The first six games might simply be labeled "It's Really Difficult Replacing Spoon, Quan, Syd, And Chase." Without those four stars, the run O and the pass D could drop off quickly.

But with a top-3 defensive line in all of college football...

...we have a Thing that should prevent us from tumbling very far. I do think this is a step-back season, but if we can find a quarterback and push the passing game forward (we have the receivers for it), maybe that step-back is slight.

And if Josh McCray is healthy and Reggie Love is ready and Matt Bailey/Xavier Scott play like they played in the bowl game.......

I won't finish that sentence. Yet. We have a whole summer to cover all of that stuff. Patience, Robert.

But seriously - the trend is our friend. Vegas said 3, and then Vegas said 4.5, and now Vegas says 6.5. My new goal for the 2023 season:

Whatever our record, show enough hope for the future that Vegas has to put up an 8 this time next year.


Joe Edge on May 9, 2023 @ 04:27 AM

Beautiful pic - is that southern Colorado ? BTW: Did you know that 80% of the land mass above 14,000 feet in North America is in the state of Colorado ? ? Don't care what Vegas says, just really happy we have the best coach we've had since the White / Mackovic era (or maybe even Ray Eliot).... which means it's been a long, long, long, LONG time....

IlliniJoe81 on May 10, 2023 @ 08:57 AM

Sorry to turn this back to basketball, but I think a lot of the angst right now on that side of the house is the negative trend. Football is trending up so people are happy. I suspect we bounce back a little in basketball this coming season and come back to earth a bit with football. Will be curious how people feel then.

on July 3, 2023 @ 03:59 PM

on July 3, 2023 @ 03:59 PM


on July 3, 2023 @ 03:59 PM


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