"Emotion is highly overrated in football. My wife Corky is emotional as hell but can't play football worth a damn."
-- Hall of Fame Coach John McKay
I. Case History/Opening Statement
A. Case History
The Fighting Illini have been here before. There was the Rose Bowl in '83. There was the shared Big Ten crown in '90. This century, there was the shocking 2001 league title and even more surprising run to the Rose Bowl in 2007. Unfortunately, the season after three of those four great years, Illinois missed a bowl game. And after the 2001 triumph, the program began a nose dive that has resulted in only one winning season in the past 8 (the aforementioned 2007 team). While the 2008 team seemed a play or two short of being decent, last year's squad appeared rudderless. And now, they may have a coach who has one year to save his job - but may not have the squad to do it.
More Closing Arguments:
B. Opening Statement
A. Pop Music Teaches Us
B. Off Tackle Empire Says
Here's some of what we've written about the Illini over the off-season:
A look back at a very unusual last decade
III. Emotional Plea
I challenge you to define this team. For the past four years, this was Juice Williams's squad. That was a blessing and a curse. The successes and failures of the team almost perfectly mirrored the successes and failures of Juice. Nathan Scheelhaase takes over now. The hope is that leads to more consistent results. Evryone is saying all of the right things for August. The hope is that they're doing the same thing in October. Absent a proven running back and proven wide receiver (which partly explains former starting QB Eddie McGee's move to the position), it may take some time for the offense to get going in new OC Paul Petrino's system. We're all assuming that it will be a pass-happy set. It will be interesting to see how a young quarterback handles that much responsibility that quickly.
On defense, the Illini were poor last year.The good news is that expected leader Martez Wilson should be back to full strength after missing 2009. The bad news is that expected starting strong safety Supo Sanni just found out that his next action will be in 2011, after a rupturing his Achilles tendon. New DC Vic Koenning is charged with building a defense, but it won't be easy. It's reasonable to hope that they'll take a step forward with improved coaching (Koenning did a solid job at K-State). It's hard to know how far that improvement gets them. They have a long way to go from 2009's performance before they can think about challenging in the conference again.
The schedule is kind enough to keep Illinois from having to face Wisconsin and Iowa. However, dates with Penn State, Ohio State, Michigan State, Missouri, and Northwestern all loom as likely losses. Two tricky non-conference games (at Fresno State and vs. Northern Illinois) don't help the team's chances of returning to a bowl game.
IV. The Verdict
A. The Staff Calls the Games
It may have seemed like I was being hard on Illinois during the Argument. It turns out, I'm higher on the Illini than almost anyone else on the staff.
3-9 (1-7) with wins over SIU, NIU, Indiana
6-6 (2-6) with wins over Missouri, SIU, NIU, Indiana, Minnesota, Fresno State
5-7 (2-6) with wins over SIU, NIU, Indiana, Minnesota, Fresno State
3-9 (1-7) with wins over SIU, NIU, Minnesota
4-8 (2-6) with wins over SIU, NIU, Indiana, Purdue
4-8 (2-6) with wins over SIU, NIU, Indiana, Minnesota
2-10 (0-8) with wins over SIU, Fresno State