SOC - Kansas
It's always weird to write one of these on a Thursday night. Just feels off. And I'll have to do it again in four weeks for the Nebraska game.
It doesn't feel weird, however, to write this the night before our first road game. No matter the Illini coach, these articles write themselves. Perhaps I should start with a cut-and-paste of the "first road game" list I include every time I write a Stream Of Consciousness before our first road game. You might want to cover your eyes and read this between your fingers.
- 2022 - lost at Indiana 23-20
- 2021 - lost at Virginia 42-14
- 2020 - lost at Wisconsin 45-7
- 2019 - beat UConn 31-23 (UConn finished 2-10)
- 2018 - beat Rutgers 38-17 (Rutgers finished 1-11)
- 2017 - lost at South Florida 47-23
- 2016 - lost at Nebraska 31-16
- 2015 - lost at North Carolina 48-14
- 2014 - lost at Washington 44-19
- 2013 - lost at Nebraska 39-19
- 2012 - lost at Arizona State 45-14
- 2011 - won at Indiana 41-20 (Indiana finished 1-11)
- 2010 - lost (neutral) to Missouri 23-13
- 2009 - lost (neutral) to Missouri 37-9
- 2008 - lost (neutral) to Missouri 52-42
- 2007 - lost (neutral) to Missouri 40-34
- 2006 - lost at Rutgers 33-0
- 2005 - lost at Cal 35-20
- 2004 - lost at Wisconsin 24-7
- 2003 - lost (neutral) to Missouri 22-15
- 2002 - lost (neutral) to Missouri 33-20
- 2001 - won at Cal 44-17 (Cal finished 1-10)
I have that article open, so maybe I should just link the next few paragraphs that I wrote last year before the Indiana game. Still applies today. I'll just update it to read "2022"...
So from 2001 to 2022, four wins the first time we left Champaign. And those four opponents combined to go 5-42. If we play anyone decent at all, we lose the first time we leave Champaign.
"But Robert, that was then and this is now. What does Ron Zook getting shut out at Rutgers have to do with Bret Bielema in 2022?"
Nothing, of course. But also, everything.
What that list says to me: it's very hard to win away from home early in the season. Even the great Illini teams of the past inform us of this. The 1983 Rose Bowl team went undefeated in the Big Ten... and lost the opener at Missouri 28-18. The next year the Illini went 7-4... but lost at 5-6 Stanford in the first road game. The next year we went 6-5-1... but lost the opening road game at Nebraska. The 1990 team - a team that would beat eventual national champion Colorado and an Illini team that would find themselves ranked #5 going into November... lost the opener at 7-5 Arizona. And don't make me rehash the September losses at Missouri in 1991 and 1993 (both of which I attended).
Since 2001, 4-18 the first time we leave Champaign. The last time we won our first road game against a team that eventually made a bowl: 1999 (Louisville). You've heard me say all of this before.
Hell, you heard me say it last year and you were still lockstep "the past doesn't inform the present with this coaching staff" in the comments. I'll just screencap five of the 15 comments on that article:
That's not some big callout directed at anyone. I'm not even saying "correct as always" (remember, I predicted 4-8 last season). I'm simply saying that the first road game is hard for everyone. Even teams with great coaching staffs. We could get blown out 52-3 tomorrow and when you read this article next week I'll still be saying "this is Penn State's first road game, and those are always difficult for everyone." I'm not predicting a loss here because I don't BELIEVE. I'm predicting a loss because it's really hard to win on the road, especially in September.
Just look at Week One. Clemson lost 28-7 at Duke. Ohio State had a rough opener at Indiana. NC State struggled at UConn. Texas Tech lost at Wyoming. Really, the only solid Power Five team that went on the road and had a solid performance was Oregon State winning at San Jose State. Almost every Power Five team was a 10+ point home favorite and won their game.
I had hoped, back when we scheduled this game, that 2023 Kansas would fall into the category of 2019 UConn or 2001 Cal. Kansas wins from 2010 to 2021: 3, 2, 1, 3, 3, 0, 2, 1, 3, 3, 0, 2. And then last year, of course, the year before we play them: 6-6. (Care to guess our next home-and-home starting in 2025? Duke.)
Play any of those Kansas teams (from 2010 to 2021) and I'd be predicting a win here. I listed 22 seasons above and this current coaching staff is the best Illini staff of any of those 22 years. But this is a Kansas team with the preseason Big 12 Offensive Player of the Year. Of ALL THE YEARS for the Kansas series to start, it's this year.
Kansas is favored by 3.5 at the moment (which is basically just home field advantage). The over/under is 58 so according to math, Vegas sees this game as a 31-27 Kansas win. I kinda feel like that over/under is... too low? Mostly because of our success rate on both sides of the ball.
First, the success rate definition:
A play is defined as successful if:
- It gains at least 50% of the yards required to move the chains on first down
- 70% of yards to gain on second down
- 100% of yards to gain on third or fourth down
To calculate success rate, simply divide the number of successful plays (as defined by down and distance above) by total plays.
We only have one game of Success Rate data, so these numbers will change a lot, but here's where we stand after one week:
Illini offensive Success Rate: 55.7% (21st out of 69 Power Five teams)
Illini defensive Success Rate: 44.6% (59th out of 69 Power Five teams)
Yes, Toledo was better than maybe two-thirds of the opponents played by Power Five teams last week. So a lot of that "59th out of 69 Power Five defenses" is found in the strength of the Toledo offense (compared to, say, Mercer or Towson). But I still think we can say that the defense, as expected, has taken a step back without Syd, Quan, Spoon and Co. The Toledo offense was quite successful. I think the Kansas offense will be even more successful.
On the flipside, the Illinois offense was much better than expected. We put up a 55.7% success rate against a decent Toledo defense. Kansas doesn't have a standout defense, so I think we can put up points tomorrow (as long as we stop shooting ourselves in the foot).
I just don't think we can win. I made this prediction the moment Indiana won last year (and that was a 4-8 Indiana team beating an 8-4 Illini team). The first road game is always very difficult.
Kansas 38, Illinois 35