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Hoegher's 2013 Previews: ILLINOIS FIGHTING ILLINI

Hey y'all! So my goal is to align my completely accurate probably incorrect previews with the regular OTE coverage. It's currently Sunday when I'm starting to write this and my assumption is that the OTE staff are going to move through the Big Ten pecking order from bad to good not-as-bad. To that end, I'm writing this about Illinois and it's my hope that I assumed correctly. Otherwise, I'll be scrambling a lot during the mid part of this week.

EDIT: Wonderful, I guessed correctly. Go me.

THE PAST

NOTE: all historical data is taken from James Howell's excellent resource and/or Sports-Reference (college football edition)

Illinois Overall Ratings

Illinois Adj Off/Def

Illinois Win Pct/Luck

Winning percentage and "Luck" are plotted on a win-pct basis (mind-blowing, I know). Adj Off,Def,Eff,Marg and Resume rankings are plotted on a percentile-ranking basis. Thus, a team rating out in the 99th percentile would be awesome, a team rating out in the 1st percentile would be not-so-awesome.

I've mentioned before that some of the best joy I get from making these rankings is delving into the history of each school. For most of us, our college football experience is limited to the current millennium, maybe stretching back to the 1990's and 80's if we're a member of the elderly set. Personally, I didn't pay any attention to college football growing up until I got to campus in 2007 and a cute girl asked to watch the Badger game with me (freshman hoegher was less confident and failed to seal the deal). Regardless of your own age/experience, though, I imagine that it's difficult to have a full knowledge of every school and every season, so I hope this offers some minor (possibly flawed!) insight.

For Illinois, one thing is obvious: hire a coach with some variation of the name Elliot. Ray Eliot is easily the most successful coach in Illinois history*, boasting a perfect bowl record (2-0 in the Rose Bowl, y'all) to bolster his title of Mr. Illini. Pete Elliott doesn't come close to the former Eliot's success, but he still managed a Big Ten title and Rose Bowl victory in 1963. Unfortunately, that was the Fighting Illini's last Rose Bowl victory, falling twice since then (1983 with coach Mike White, and obviously 2007 with the Zooker).

* Apologies to the Illini teams prior to 1930: these rankings get wildly variant in those early years and I've made a decision to stop at 1930. Sorry.

Does Tim Beckman have the ability to end that drought? Well, that depends. He definitely had success at Toledo, dramatically turning them around (Toledo ranked 105th by my byzantine formula in 2008, the year before he arrived. They ranked 34th in 2011, his last year in charge). On the other hand, his first year at Illinois was nothing short of awful, especially on offense. Blame that on Nathan Scheelhaase (I will never remember how to spell that name) and his inexplicable continued decline if you want, but all indications are he's going to win the QB competition for the 2013 season as well. Good luck, Tim!

THE FUTURE

CFBStats.com and FBSchedules.com are used for reference here. I highly recommend both sites.

Projected Rating: -0.153 (84th)

Conf Proj Rec Conf Rec Adj Off rk Adj Def rk Adj Eff rk Adj Marg rk
B10 4-8 2-6 0.776 102 0.917 53 0.458 84 -0.141 81

Schedule SOS rk Conf SOS rk n-con SOS rk
Rating/Rk 0.111 37 0.306 28 -0.279 75

Week 1 (H) Week 2 (H) Week 3 (N) Week 4 Week 5 (H) Week 6 (V) Week 7 Week 8 (H)
124 - FCS 98% 29 - Cincy 14% 61 - Wash 34% 0 - BYE 0% 113 - MiaOH 79% 18 - CORN 7% 0 - BYE 0% 22 - Wiscy 9%
Week 9 (H) Week 10 (V) Week 11 (V) Week 12 (H) Week 13 (V) Week 14 (H) Week 15 Week 16
30 - Sparty 15% 19 - PennSt 7% 90 - Indy 56% 14 - OhioSt 5% 70 - ????? 41% 37 - justNW 18% 0 - BYE 0% 0 - BYE 0%

The number next to each opponent represents the projected ranking for that team. The percentages represent projected likelihood of winning a particular game, helpfully color-coded for your benefit (no regard for home/away, though that status is noted). The team names have been adjusted to better fit your screen, I hope they are obvious enough. You are free to ignore everything and tell me why I'm wrong, you're probably right.

Illinois 2013 Profile

This is an attempt to quickly illustrate a team's outlook for the coming season.These aren't unique (my personal experience was a Pokemon Yellow Guide from my youth): maxing out the pentagon is better. Winning percentage should be obvious, but other than that: the numbers here represent percentile rankings. 99th percentile is good, 1st percentile is less so.

Before I start, let me say that new coaches offer a wrench in these projections. Not that these are entirely accurate anyway, but new coaches bring new schemes/athletes/auras and regressions probably don't capture that the best. Having said that, I pretty much nailed Penn State last year, so y'all can just deal.

Illinois is probably not going to a bowl this year. Let's get that out of the way, first. They would need to win all their toss-ups (Indiana, Purdue, arguably Washington at Soldier Field) as well as steal one against the rest of their schedule (probably Northwestern at home). So what we're looking for in 2013 Illinois is not the objective win/loss record but those nebulous metrics of "improvement" and "competitiveness."

OFFENSE: Item #1 on that list for demonstrating improvement would be on offense. The Illini were pretty terrible last year, most notably in a shut-out against Michigan and only scoring 17 points against Indiana. That's obviously not good (well, I enjoyed it as a Badger fan). The good news is that Illinois graduated nobody and will have experience coming into 2013.

Obviously, Scheelhaase has experience (hurrah?) and it would be hard to be worse than his 2012 performance (60% comp, 5.5 yds/att, 4 TD, 8 INT). I have been a proponent of Reilly O'Toole in the past, but it seems that he's not in the arguement, especially after a pretty bad spring game performance. Honestly, if I were Illinois' coach I would get fired almost immediately, I'd just give the reigns to Aaron Bailey* (incoming 4-star recruit). I recognize the inherent risk of putting a freshman out there, especially one without a ton of talent to protect him, but Nathan Scheelhaase is in his senior year and hasn't shown anything (other than brief pieces his freshman year) to deserve a shot over Bailey.

* I actually wrote Alvin Bailey when I first drafted this. I probably read too much draft coverage.

The Illini have put out some decent running backs over the past few years (Mikel LeShoure and Rashard Mendenhall), and though they haven't been stars in the NFL so far (injured and crazy, respectively), they were at least drafted! So Illinois has some legacy there.

Now, I have not looked into Illinois' O-Line stats and I have no real desire or expertise to do so. Also, since the NCAA (idiotically) counts sacks as rushes, some of these numbers may not be the best reflection of players ability. Having said that: Illinois should use their running backs more. A LOT MORE. Nathan Scheelhaase (your presumptive 2013 quarterback) averaged 5.5 yds/att last year and 2.4 yds/car as a rusher. Regardless of sacks/rushes and whatnot, that's pretty awful. Donovonn Young (NOTE: I had Donovan Jordan here before. I have no idea why) and Josh Ferguson averaged 4.4 and 4.1 yds/car, respectively, and while that's not great: it's certainly a heck of a lot better than what Scheelhause was doing (seriously, just go with Alvin Bailey). I'd also wager that Dami Ayoola will get some more opportunities as he averaged 4.5 yds/car last year (albeit on just 26 attempts). I don't anticipate new recruit Kendrick Foster (3-star on Scout) getting much playing time, I'd assume they red-shirt him if anything.

I've said that Illinois has a lot of experience coming back, this is best represented in Illinois' 2012 receiving list: the top nine receivers (in terms of yards) are all returning. Granted, this is Illinois, so none of them had more than 500 yards in receptions, but we're counting small victories here. However, since Illinois has a total of two wide receiver prospects coming in (both 2-star), experience is a valuable asset. A lot of the success of the passing game hinges on Scheelhaase (HOT SPORTS TAKES FROM HOEGHER), but assuming that Ryan Lankford, Darius Millines, and Spencer Harris improve even marginally, Illinois could be dangerous (again, assuming Scheelhaase can pass the ball). I'm not hugely optimistic on that "better QB" thing, and I've said that I think Illinois should run the ball more, so grains of salt on that.

DEFENSE: Defensively, I will admit I'm less able to talk intelligently about this subject. Minds much smarter than I am have admitted it's tough to quantify a player's defense impact, mostly because the offense dictates opportunities. Regardless, I press on with the knowledge that I am most likely incorrect.

Illinois was actually... okay on defense last year! That's actually a compliment considering how little time the spent on offense, which gave the defense more opportunities to discredit themselves. I am a little worried about that though. I have the Illini pegged at 53rd in the nation for their 2013 defense, but:

That considers their solid 2011 defense (18th in Adj Def)

They lose some senior contributors from last years defense

Akeem Spence and Michael Buchanan, are the biggest losses, representing 3rd in tackles and 2nd in TFL's, respectively. I'm hesitant to believe in Tim Beckman as a defensive mastermind (whether delegated or personal), as his Toledo defenses generated toward the lower end of the FBS. Illinois didn't recruit any high quality defensive players (arguably Caleb Day at defensive back), and I hear that Illinois lost some from its secondary. I'll be cautious on Illinois and weep openly when they shut-out Wisconsin later this year.

HOEGHER'S BIASED PREDICTION

2-10. I think they'll beat Southern Illinois (FCS) and Miami (OH). Maybe they pull an upset against Purdue (despite the projected confidence, I'm high enough on Kevin Wilson to give Indiana the win at home), but there's not a whole lot after that. I'm really down on Tim Beckman after 2012, though I think he's smart enough to pull Scheelhaase for Bailey by the end of the year.

QUICK REFERENCE:

Adj Off - analogous to scoring offense, adjusted for opponent strength.

Adj Def - analogous to scoring defense, adjusted for opponent strength.

Adj Eff - analogous to scoring ratio, adjusted for opponent strength.

Adj Marg - analogous to scoring margin, adjusted for opponent strength.

Luck - difference between actual winning percentage and expected winning percentage.

Resume - analogous to win/loss record, adjusted for opponent strength.

For for information see here: HOEGHER'S PRIMER.

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