Hot Reads: What a Difference a Year Makes
Photo Credit: Aaron Babcock

Hot Reads: What a Difference a Year Makes

June 13, 2017

If you remember the name McIllece Sports you are either way into college football predictions or maybe you recall a set of rankings that had Nebraska ranked seventh (in the country) last summer with a 46-percent chance to win the division.

The Huskers didn’t finish seventh and didn’t win the division, of course, but before you dismiss a set of predictions based on the accuracy or inaccuracy of one pick, McIllece Sports does rank as the most accurate predictor (based on conference predictions) of the last three years at

And, as is noted in the intro to the new 2017 rankings, conference rank is just one way to measure accuracy. From McIllece Sports:

In the 2016 College Football Notebook, McIllece Sports published win-loss probabilities for every team, something no other outlet in the Stassen Poll provides. (ESPN, with their FPI system, produces projected win totals and conference championship probabilities.) With probabilities assigned to every possible team record, the ultimate test of accuracy can be evaluated: calculating the error in the preseason win prediction, then comparing the actual error distribution to the distribution expected by the preseason win-loss probabilities. If the expected distribution and the actual distribution closely match, then it is shown that the win-loss probabilities were accurate.

The 2016 comparison demonstrates that our win-loss probabilities were extraordinarily precise:

More than half the FBS teams were projected to within one win, and over three-fourths of teams were projected to within two wins. As a comparison, ESPN (the only other Stassen outlet to evaluate its 2016 win projections) was “within one win…for more than a third of FBS teams” and “within two wins for nearly two-thirds of teams.” The McIllece win projections were much more accurate, although it should be noted that ESPN included the eight conference championship games in their calculations, slightly altering the basis of comparison from 826 games to 834 games.

So what does McIllece Sports predict for the Huskers this year? Not No. 7 and not a division championship. Nebraska doesn’t rank in the top 30 and is picked fourth in the Big Ten West. The Huskers won the division in 7 percent of the 100,000 simulations.

Ohio State tops McIllece Sports’ preseason rankings and won the East Division in 53 percent of simulations. Wisconsin, which wasn’t in the 2016 preseason top 25, ranks fourth this year and won the West 60 percent of the time. Penn State, Michigan and Northwestern also make the top 30 from the Big Ten.

No win-loss prediction for Nebraska yet. That will be coming later this summer when McIllece Sports releases its College Football Notebook (here’s last year’s version). I filled that out for the Big Ten week-by-week last year and found it somewhat therapeutic — “Hey, it’s Sunday, let’s update the notebook.” — and illuminating. The biggest thing I learned: If you put much stock in the initial rankings, looking at how each game changes those rankings over a season gives you a good idea of what influences a team’s actual power.

We still decide everything in college based on the wins and losses, be weird if we didn’t, but if you like having an idea of over- and under-valued teams this can help get you there.

The Grab Bag

Today’s Song of Today

  • Never miss the latest news from Hail Varsity!

    Join our free email list by signing up below.