Commentary: Evaluation of My Predictions for 2008 (Regular Season)
by Jonathan Hodges

As Northwestern (9-3, 5-3) awaits its bowl fate, I will take the opportunity to assess my predictions made prior to and during the 2008 regular season.  Last season I went 11-1 in my preseason predictions and went 10-2 in my pregame predictions during the season (I was 4-7 against the spread in the pregame predictions).


Prior to the season, I had NU going 8-4 (4-4), and Northwestern did one better, going 9-3 (5-3).  In terms of the individual games, they played out as follows:

Opponent - Predicted/Actual
Syracuse - W/W
Duke - W/W
Ohio - W/W
Iowa - L/W
Purdue - W/W
Indiana - W/L
Minnesota - W/W
Michigan - W/W
Illinois - L/W

Thankfully a couple of my predictions were incorrect, with NU beating Iowa and Illinois to help boost it's number of Big Ten wins to 5 (giving the 'Cats a winning conference record for the first time since their last bowl trip in 2005), although once again NU blew a "gimme" game against Indiana, spoiling my preseason pick (although I expected Indiana to be much better than their final 3-9 record).  The MSU and OSU predictions turned out to come true as those teams both beat NU soundly.  Preseason Predictions vs. Results: 9-3.


During the week leading up to each game, I predicted the winner as well as the final score of that game (and listed the spread).  Going by these pregame predictions within the season, I tabbed NU to go 9-3 (5-3), which is actually where they ended up, but I got 4 predictions wrong - all in Big Ten play.  I picked NU to lose to Iowa (given that NU hadn't yet been tested by any significant opponents, had to travel to Iowa City, and had been underwhelming thus far on offense) and Minnesota (following the horrible loss to Indiana while losing Bacher and Sutton to injury while Minnesota was riding a 7-1 record at the time) - but the 'Cats won both of those difficult road games.  Meanwhile, I picked NU to beat Michigan State (riding the purple wave of enthusiasm following NU's road win over Iowa, going against my preseason pick) and Indiana (NU's only head-scratching loss of the season, which was basically in the same category as last year's loss to Duke) - NU proceeded to lose both of those games.  Pregame Predictions vs. Results (W/L): 8-4.

Against the spread, I went 6-5, and happened to predict NU beating the spread in every game, which, of course, makes my record against the spread exactly the same as NU's 6-5 mark on the year, which is pretty solid considering their history of "playing down to competition" and thereby doing poorly against the spread (which of course is meaningless in the real world where only W's and L's matter).  Note that there was no spread in the SIU game since it was an inter-subdivision game.

In terms of scoring margin per game, I was off by an average of 11.9 points/game when comparing my predicted margin to the actual margin, again considering that I lost a 31 point swing to Ohio State as they piled on the points late (I predicted a 4 point loss for NU; the 'Cats lost by 35) and a 21 point swing to MSU (I predicted a 4 point win for NU - they lost by 17 as the 'Cats spotted the Spartans 17 first quarter points thanks mostly to costly turnovers).  Last year I was off by an average margin of 10.8 points/game, so I got slightly worse this year, although I improved over my 4-7 mark against the spread in 2007.

Northwestern Scoring - 315 (26.3 points/game) / 294 (24.5 points/game)
Opponent Scoring - 226 (18.8 points/game) / 232 (19.3 points/game)
Scoring Margin - +89 (+7.4 points/game) / +62 (+5.2 points/game)

In terms of predicting the scores on a cumulative basis, I was surprisingly close to the actual results.  I was within 2 points/game for NU scoring and was only 0.5 points/game off on opponent scoring as I correctly predicted the rise of the NU defense in 2008.  This led my predicted scoring margin to be relatively close of the actual scoring margin (mine was 2.2 points/game higher than actual).

Prediction Notes

Now time to look back at my pregame score predictions to see where I hit, missed, or wasn't even close.

The Good
- Syracuse: I predicted a 28-13 win and NU held up its end of the bargain, winning 30-10, very close to my predicted margin.
- Duke: I predicted a 27-20 win and NU held up, winning 24-20, just a FG short of my predicted score.
- SIU: I predicted a 35-13 win and once again, the final score was close with NU winning 33-7.
- Minnesota: My prediction was a 17-21 loss, but NU's D made an amazing stand in the 2nd half, not allowing any scores by Minnesota and putting a TD on the board themselves as the 'Cats won 24-17 - making my predicted score close to the actual, although thankfully with NU winning.

The Bad
- Iowa: I predicted a 10-13 loss with no confidence in NU's offense, but thankfully the 'Cats didn't listen, winning 22-17.
- Ohio State: I prected NU would lose 17-21 in a close game, but OSU once again blew out NU 10-45, although it was the closest game in the series since NU's 2004 win.
- Michigan State: I rode the wave of enthusiasm and predicted a 35-31 victory but the 'Cats' turnovers came back to bite them as NU lost 20-37.

My Crowning Moment
- Once again, NU held true to my "off the wall preseason prediction" as I predicted that the 'Cats would win all 4 nonconference games for the first undefeated nonconference regular season since 1963 - which they, of course, did.  (Last year I correctly predicted NU would notch its first shutout since 1997 against Northeastern).  Not a big risk, but every NU fan knows the Wildcats found a way to lose at least one nonconference game every year for over 4 decades, and thankfully that streak is over.

Overall, like last season, I had NU pretty well tabbed this year, but unlike last year when NU went one worse than my predicted 7-5 record, the 'Cats exceeded my 8-4 preseason prediction.  The past 2 years I have given NU a +/- 1 game "cushion" on that preseason prediction, so they fell within that window both years.  The loss to Indiana was a head-scratcher and a win there could have propelled NU to 10 on the year - although who knows if NU would have had the same motivation to go up to Minneapolis and beat Minnesota the following week and finish the year by winning 3 of 4.  I knew Michigan would have a down year, but nobody was projecting them to net only 3 wins - although I did have NU tabbed as winning that game before the season.  I correctly anticipated MSU as a tougher opponent.  The biggest shift was Illinois - who I, like many, thought would again contend at the top of the conference, but instead went from "Rose Bowl to no bowl" as NU beat them (which I predicted as a loss before the year).  Finally, Northwestern's biggest win (looking back over the season from this vantage point) was over Iowa in Iowa City (where then #2 Penn State could not escape with a win) - although NU did defeat then-ranked and 7-1 Minnesota, the Gophers went on to lose their final 4 games and slide into the lowest Big Ten bowl slot (although they did net a +6 improvement in the win column over last season).  Although NU didn't come up with the huge upset win, they took care of business on their way to 9 wins overall - an outstanding achievement.

The one thing about this season, though, is that before the year if you had said NU would lose its starting QB Bacher for 2 games, starting RB Sutton for 4 games, then-starting RB Conteh for 3 games, starting DT Bryant for 1 game, starting MLB Arrington for 6 games, starting CB Vaughn for 10 games, starting RT Mattes for 2+ games (although he was later passed on the depth chart), and starting WR Brewer for 3+ games (although the WRs routinely rotate in and out during the game), AND that the Wildcats would win 9 games (for only the 5th time in school history) and finish 4th in the Big Ten standings - myself (and most other fans) would have thought that you were crazy.  Credit NU's players and their ability to step up as well as the coaching staff and their ability to game-plan around adversity for this feat.  The Wildcats also didn't lost consecutive games for the first time since the 2000 Big Ten championship season; it's a fact that this squad faced adversity and took it head-on.

Self-Evaluation for Predictions: B

Although not as good as last year, I still did a respectable job predicting NU's game, and the 'Cats' 9-3 season sure made it a lot more fun.  I was relatively close in predicting the margins in a few games and was close in the total points scored and allowed during the year.  And considering the adversity that NU faced throughout the year, it made predicting those games rather difficult.  Given that most in the "traditional media" had the 'Cats slated for 6-6, at best, I would say I was ahead of the curve in tabbing NU's year.

Thankfully, for NU fans, it's not over as I'll have one more game to predict in Northwestern's 2008 season, which very well may occur in 2009 - the bowl game.  I'll evaluate that one after the pairings are announced on Dec. 7.

Go 'Cats!!!

e-mail: j-hodges@alumni.northwestern.edu

Previous jhodges commentary

jhodges is the primary content provider of HailToPurple.com.  His commentary and game analyses appear regularly during the season and occasionally in the offseason.