Football predictions for the IL championship games

Our mathematical model, spelled out here, only gives four of the eight championship games this weekend at Champaign’s historic Memorial Stadium a comfortable decision with more than a 60 percent probability. We predict:

  • [Class 1A] Carrollton over Forreston, 65% chance
  • [Class 4A] Phillips over Rochester, 80% chance
  • [Class 5A] Sacred Heart-Griffin over Montini, 80% chance
  • [Class 6A] Lemont over Nazareth, 61% chance

Even here, the 1A and 6A games are statistically close if we consider a few key variables that now don’t contribute to our model.

Carrollton in Class 1A has scored more points than Forreston this season (546-518) and allowed fewer points by opponents (96-154), which is one reason our mathematical model called it for Carrollton. But a quick look at Forreston in the playoffs shows that they have beaten teams that were statistically stronger, at least a little, in three of the four games played so far. Forreston also played a slightly tougher schedule this year, facing teams with a combined record of 40-41 in the regular season, compared to a combined record of 38-43 for Carrollton’s opponents. Often, playing a tougher schedule during the season has led to teams that tend to defy our mathematical models in the playoffs.

Nazareth and Lemont in 6A are each seeking their first state title in football, so one of them will win. The game gets just far enough away from a statistical dead heat for us even to make a call. Lemont wins the statistical game, but their conference is weak. The combined record for all of Lemont’s regular-season opponents was only 33-48, and only two of the nine made the playoffs at all. Nazareth, on the other hand, played a tougher schedule. The combined record of all their regular-season opponents was 38-43, and five of the nine teams made the playoffs. This means our model, which uses points scored and points given up, can be tricked into believing a team is stronger than they are if the team played weak opponents. The playoffs, and especially the championship games, can bring out the best in teams.

Montini and Rochester are strong teams, but our model gives them only a slim chance of winning their 5A and 4A games against Sacred Heart-Griffin and Phillips Academy. However, Rochester is going for its fifth consecutive state title against Phillips from Chicago, a city whose public schools have never won a state title in Champaign. The Rockets overcame similar odds against three other teams in the playoffs this year just to get to Champaign, so personally, I’m inclined to distrust the mathematical model in 4A, too. And, Montini may remember losing to Sacred Heart-Griffin in this same game just one year ago in DeKalb. Avenging that loss could help motivate them here to overcome the mathematical odds.

The games in classes 2A, 3A, 7A, and 8A are just too close to call, based on our mathematical model. If we were forced to make a prediction, or a wild guess, as the case is here, we would make the following calls:

  • [Class 2A] Eastland-Pearl City over Maroa-Forsyth, 52%
  • [Class 3A] Williamsville over Wilmington, 55%
  • [Class 7A] Cary-Grove over Providence, 58%
  • [Class 8A] Stevenson over Homewood-Flossmoor, 50%

Since our strict mathematical model calls these games close, it’s fair to ask about any other variables that might come into play.

We don’t have a good explanation for the game between Cary-Grove and Providence in Class 7A, but we have to say the mathematical model has a better chance of being fooled on this game than on any other championship game this year. Providence played a much tougher schedule, having a 51-30 combined record for all opponents, seven of which made the playoffs. Only St Rita and Wheaton Warrenville South had schedules that tough. Playing a tough schedule like that, especially when compared with Cary-Grove’s schedule—only three opponents made the playoffs and the combined record was 41-40—can boost a team’s preparedness level. It’s like comparing the straight GPA of a student who takes all honors classes to that of a student who fills his schedule with classes like those taken by athletes at the University of North Carolina, as discovered in the recent scandal there: our mathematical model could very easily put these two teams in the wrong order.

In 2A, the Eastland-Pearl City coop team had a slightly tougher schedule and had more opponents make the playoffs than Maroa-Forsyth. However, Maroa-Forsyth lost three of its four regular-season games to teams with better records than they had, and Eastland-Pearl City is undefeated so far this year. Although Maroa-Forsyth has overcome great odds against teams to get to Champaign, we think the statistical analysis shows Eastland-Pearl City may just be too much for them to handle. It could happen, though.

The 3A game is closer than the 2A game if we bring in variables outside our model. Both teams went undefeated in the regular season and Williamsville had only a slightly tougher schedule than Wilmington, with four opponents making the playoffs, compared to three for Wilmington. The reason our computer gave the edge to Williamsville in the simulations is that their margin of victory is just a bit higher than Wilmington’s. That’s probably the least important statistic in terms of estimating team strength, especially given an undefeated record, but it’s there.

Finally, even though our simulator put Stevenson in Class 8A ahead at the end of 50 out of 100 hypothetical games against Homewood-Flossmoor, we are calling the game for Stevenson on the basis of strength of schedule. The two teams met in Week 2 of the regular season, the game being a close match with Stevenson coming out on top 33-24. Homewood-Floosmoor scored many more points this season, but Stevenson’s opponents were much tougher. Including H-F, six of their nine opponents made the playoffs, with a combined record of 48-33, while only four of H-F’s opponents made the playoffs, with a combined record of 39-42. We just have a sense that Stevenson will come to Champaign slightly better prepared than H-F, although avenging that Week 2 loss could be a motivator for the Vikings.

Why do you agree or disagree with poet WH Auden, who wrote, “Machines are beneficial to the degree that they eliminate the need for labor, harmful to the degree that they eliminate the need for skill.” I could say the same about statistical models and sports. See Common Core mathematical practices standard MP4 for more information.

About the Author

Paul Katula
Paul Katula is the executive editor of the Voxitatis Research Foundation, which publishes this blog. For more biographical information, see the About page.