Illinois can't have nice things. It's the "go to" Illini insult at OTE. In my, very brief, time here I've been hit with it so many times, I feel like Wile E. Coyote after he gets hit with the boulder, anvil and of course the kitchen sink. Kind of like "F#*k Michigan", "Ohio St has the best players money can buy" and Penn St... well... I'll leave that alone. Fact is, Illinois football had, perhaps, its best opening weekend ever. Of course, not the University of Illinois, which came 3 yards and a 2 point conversion away from an embarrassing overtime session with a FCS school. But the state of Illinois, which had several schools come away with big opening day wins.
I realize Cal football isn't quite what it used to be and hasn't won a bowl game since '08, but the Big Ten will take any west coast, Pac 12, victory it can get these days. Prior to Saturday night, the Big Ten was 5-17 out there since 2000. Maybe not the prettiest thing, the 44-30 win was an important first step for a Wildcat team preseason ranked for the first time since 2001. Pat Fitzgerald is quickly tearing down any argument that he's the best coach in school history. That's the good news, the bad news is he's also making a name for himself nationally and will certainly be on the short list of every big name school looking in the next couple of off seasons.
Perhaps the biggest state win Saturday, the Huskies went into Kinnick Stadium looking for redemption from an 18-17 loss last year at Soldier Field in Chicago and came out with a 30-27 last second win. While Jadeveon Clowney looked sleepy and disinterested and Johnny Manziel celebrated the end of his 2 quarter suspension, mocking the whole controversy by "air signing" autographs, fellow Heisman candidate Jordan Lynch threw for 275 yards and 3 touchdowns in the road win. After bowls wins in 2 of the last 3 seasons (including last years Orange Bowl loss to Florida St.) and now a win against a Power 5 school, NIU looks to replace TCU and join Boise St as top mid major threats.
If you've not heard of Dino Babers, you might want to read up on him. Babers, in just his 13th game after replacing EIU legend Bob Spoo, took the FCS Panthers to California and obliterated the San Diego St. Aztecs, 40-19 at QualComm Stadium. It was EIU's 1st win over a FBS school since 2004 and 5th overall. In Babers 1st season, he led a Panther team that finished last in 2011 to becoming the Ohio Valley Conference champions in 2012. If Illinois' Mike Thomas is head coach shopping at the end of this season and has the same trouble garnering interest as last year, don't be surprised if Babers gets a look. Probably too big a jump, but another conference championship will bring plenty of offers.
Illinois vs. Southern Illinois
Not sure where to start with this one. The Fighting Illini win 42-34 in a toasty (and spiffed up) Memorial Stadium, though it kind of feels more like a loss. These games are meant to be guaranteed win/practice games for the home team and good experience/paydays for the smaller schools, not thrillers that go down to the last second. Not only did SIU out rush the Illini 66-49, Illinois failed to crack positive rushing yards until the 9:30 mark in the 3rd quarter. The Illini defense gave up 407 yards and the coaching staff can't seem to stay off the field, picking up another sideline penalty on SIU's final drive. This time by defensive coordinator Tim Banks, who thankfully wasn't tackled by an official (like Tim Beckman last season). There was some good; Nathan Scheelhaase was a fantastic 28/36 with 416 yards and 2 touchdowns. Josh Ferguson had 152 total yards and a touchdown. The new scoreboard was a big improvement (when it worked) and the other new additions were great. Memorial Stadium has never looked better. I really got excited thinking about what it's going to be like when they start filling the place again. It just seems like a long way off for now.
So see, all's not bad in the land of Lincoln. Illinois CAN have nice things, just... not... in Champaign for a while.