I've been waiting to write anything until we got all the subscription bugs worked out. I think most of those bugs are worked out now (I think the last thing left is to get all of the lifetime subscription people their login info - that's coming soon), so I'm ready to write some words. Also - I just remembered that I can set posts to "free" (meaning they don't count for one of your two clicks, something I forgot to do for the first 6 hours of the Launch post, which was so very dumb of me), so I'll do that with this post.
You don't care about any of this. Let's get to the schedule release:
October 24 - at Wisconsin (remember us?)
October 31 - Purdue (as litmus as litmus tests get)
November 7 - Minnesota (please go pro, Bateman)
November 14 - at Rutgers (yay Rutgers instead of Indiana)
November 21 - at Nebraska (will there be Frost on the ground?)
November 28 - Ohio State (a college football tradition - Illinois/Ohio State after Thanksgiving)
December 5 - Iowa (gotta look up the score the last time they were in town...)
December 12 - at Northwestern (remember them?)
My first thought, obviously, is to go back through all the words I've written about our schedules over the last six months. Because we've had three different 2020 schedules so far.
I wrote a post in January that I called Silver Platter (don't click on that it will cost you a click - I'm just linking it in case subscribers want to go back and read the whole thing). I talked about how the 2020 schedule was almost the easiest possible schedule we could put together. A (long) snippet:
Let's just compare Illinois and Purdue. Purdue plays Rutgers-Indiana-Michigan as their crossovers and Illinois players Rutgers-Indiana-Ohio State, so they're similar there. The main reason Purdue is so high on the list and Illinois is so low - non-conference schedules:
Air Force (25)
at Boston College (92)
Illinois State (FCS)
Bowling Green (128)
Three home games for Illinois (Purdue has to go on the road to BC), and the FCS opponent might be the toughest out for Illinois (except ISU graduates their all-everything NFL tailback). AND, the conference schedule starts like this for Illinois (including 2019 record and SP+):
at Rutgers (2-10, #117)
at Nebraska (5-7, #55)
Purdue (4-8, #64)
The first Illini opponent who was in a bowl game this last season? Minnesota on October 24th. Compare that to, say, Iowa. Before October 24th, Iowa will have played Iowa State, Minnesota, Michigan State, Ohio State, and Penn State.
The point: we have a very easy schedule. Honestly, the only way to make it easier would be to replace Ohio State with a different crossover game. If that crossover game was Maryland, meaning we'd like have the #5, #6, and #7 teams in the Big Ten East as our crossover games, we could declare it the easiest schedule of the next 50 years. Two of the worst FBS teams (UConn is bad, is leaving the AAC, and currently has 24 players in the transfer portal), a FCS opponent, and then a crossover schedule which avoids Penn State, Michigan, and Michigan State. With Penn State becoming our "protected" crossover game in 2022 (replacing Rutgers), I think we can easily say that it's between 2020 and 2021 (UTSA, Charlotte, and Virginia with crossover games against Maryland, Rutgers, and Penn State) for easiest Illini schedule of my lifetime. 2022 crossovers are Penn State, Michigan, and Michigan State, so yeah - it's about to change.
That was a long paragraph. Let me make it simple. We'll always have to play every team in the Big Ten West. So if we were to design the easiest possible schedule, it would be an FCS opponent (you can only play one and can only do it every other year), plus two of the worst FBS teams you can find - all at home - and then Rutgers, Maryland, and Indiana in the East. We play an FCS opponent, two of the worst FBS teams you can find, Rutgers, Indiana, and Ohio State. One opponent away from the easiest schedule we could possibly design for ourselves.
Now four of those games are gone: Illinois State, UConn, Bowling Green (which would have been today), and Indiana. So it's obviously not "the easiest possible schedule" anymore. But it's still OK. Very balanced, I'd say. Great for a "well, what do we got?" season. It's simply the Big Ten West + the best team in the East + the worst team in the East.
Preseason SP+ from Bill Connelly for this schedule (Illinois is #61):
Ohio State (1)
So just going by SP+ it's one game where we have absolutely zero chance (#1 Ohio State), one game where we better win (Rutgers 106), four games where we'll be expected to lose (Wisconsin, Minnesota, Nebraska, Iowa), and two games that technically should be "even" (Purdue and Northwestern).
That's probably 2-6, and that's not good enough for Year 5, but let's get to that in a bit.
First let's do my "cancel out" thing (based on what type of team I think we have, not the NERDstat rankings). For starters, while not completely equal (if Rutgers was home and Ohio State was away I think they would be), but those two games are pretty close to cancel-out games. I don't think there's any way we lose to Rutgers, even on the road. I don't think there's any way we beat Ohio State, even at home. So now we're 1-1. If we somehow beat Ohio State (lol), we somehow lose to Rutgers (probably not lol?).
Then let's put Purdue and Wisconsin against each other. If this team is improved (and it better be - 40,000 words on that topic coming in the next 35 days) then those should be cancel-out games. If you somehow beat Wisconsin again then you probably lose to Purdue at home the next week. We'll make those two games 1-1 as well.
I always used to cancel out four different matchups so we could get to the "four games that define the season", and without 12 games we've now already arrived at the four games that define the season:
I did this in early January for the basketball team and came down to these four games which would define the season:
Maryland in Champaign
Rutgers in Piscataway
Penn State in State College
Iowa in Champaign
I kinda feel like that worked? Win either the Maryland or Rutgers games and we would have won a share of the Big Ten Title. Win them both and we would have won it outright. (Man, I wish Ayo had been healthy for the Rutgers game.)
I think the same can be said for the football team. 2-2 in those four (after 2-2 in the other four) and it's a solid season. That would have been either 7-5 or 8-4 with the non-conference games added back in plus Indiana. 1-3 and, although it might have been 6-6 with a full schedule, that probably isn't good enough. 3-1, Katie bar the door.
What are my specific predictions? You're gonna have to wait for the SOC the night of October 23rd.