There’s been a lot of talk about the Illini this year. But are they actually good?
In the next week or two, I want to explore this. As we put a bow on this season, I want to answer this question for all of us. Looking forward to next season, this should be a good baseline.
This one is going to be a short analysis and I want to focus on a few numbers: ELS, GLS, and ALS. These are Strength of Schedule ratings from footballoutsiders.com.
ELS counts expected losses that elite teams, two standard deviations above average would have against Illinois' schedule. GLS counts expected losses for good teams, one standard deviation above average. ALS counts losses for average teams.
I looked at Illinois losses in the last 15 years — almost none of those teams were average. That’s probably why there is so much animosity amongst fans like you and me. Most teams were well below average and as a fan, that just sucks the energy out of you.
Think about it this way: Illinois has about 9,000 undergrads starting every year. Since 2007, 135,000 Illinois students have failed to even see a “good” Illinois football team. At most, students saw a barely above-average team sneak into a bowl game.
Finally, in 15 years, we have broken away from the yellow line.
The Bret Bielema Effect
Bielema’s teams have been above average since he got to Illinois.
Average teams lose 6 games. Good teams lose 3 games. Elite teams lose 1 game.
This team had a chance to be “good”. It had a chance to be 1 standard deviation above average. That’s where shoot-yourself-in-the-foot losses like Indiana and Purdue, and even Michigan start to matter. That’s the difference between good teams and average teams.
Average teams lose winnable games. Good teams find ways to win, even in tough situations. Illinois failed to execute, on offense, defense, and special teams.
That needs to change for 2023.
Bielema has coached a lot of good to elite teams in the past. From what I have seen, Illinois is on that track. An 8-4 regular season is nothing to scoff about as Illinois fans. I am damn proud of everything this team has achieved in the last 4 months.
Trust the process. Put your faith behind Bielema. Buy those season tickets for 2023. It’ll be worth it. I promise you.