Picking Up the Pieces at Illinois
To say Tim Beckman's first season at Illinois was disappointing would be a small understatement. No one expected the Illini to win the Big 10, but they had gone 14-12 over the previous two seasons with a pair of bowl wins. Plus, the 2012 season started off nice enough with a 17-point win over a decent MAC school in Western Michigan. Another 6-6 campaign appeared at least possible. Even after they were blown out in their second game at Arizona State, the Illini returned home and took care of a IAA cupcake (Charleston Southern) by a 44-0 score. With a non-conference home game remaining against a mid-major (Louisiana Tech), and conference homes games Indiana, Minnesota, and Purdue (three teams that combined for an 11-26 mark the year before), a bowl game was not an outrageous assumption. Or so it seemed. Louisiana Tech walloped the Illini 52-24 and save for a close loss to Purdue, Illinois lost each conference game by at least 14 points. So, coming off a winless conference campaign, what is a reasonable expectation for Illinois in 2013? To answer that question, I looked at all Big 10 teams that went winless in the conference since 2005 and compared their conference statistics in a few categories to those of the Illini. The numbers I looked at were Yards Per Play (YPP), Yards Allowed Per Play (YAPP), Net Yards Per Play (YPP minus YAPP), Offensive Touchdowns (OTD), Touchdowns Allowed (TDA), and Adjusted Pythagorean Record (APR). The explanation for APR can be found here. The results are summarized below.
Ron Zook was the captain of the 2005 Illinois team. Tim Brewster, unfortunately not of Brewster's Millions fame, was the head coach of the 2007 Minnesota Golden Gophers. And finally, Kevin Wilson led the charge for the 2011 Indiana Hoosiers. How did those teams perform the following season? Illinois didn't get much better in 2006, winning just once in Big 10 play and finishing with two wins for a second year in a row. Minnesota, clearly the statistical class of these duds, actually managed a 3-5 conference mark the next season, advanced to a bowl game, and finished with a winning record at 7-6. Indiana improved to 2-6 in Big 10 play in 2012 and finished 4-8 overall. The 2012 Illini were much closer to the other Illini and the Hoosiers in terms of their play last year, so a reasonable expectation would be either one or two league wins. Accomplish that and win both of your easier non-conference homes games (IAA Southern Illinois and Miami of Ohio), and you've doubled last season's win total and probably guaranteed your coach a third year on the job.