We’re three weeks into August and for the first time under Bret Bielema, Illinois does not have a Week 0 game.
Nope, they’ll just have to be normal.
Normal? Does that mean...they can’t win games?
What is “normal” for Illinois Football anymore?
Let’s find out.
A. Case History
Last year, IT HAPPENED. After fifteen long years compromising virtually my entire Illini football fandom, the Fighting Illini won more games than they lost during the regular season. They did this with ferocious defense, a stellar run game and a modestly competent passing game. The 8-win season was a true breakout that at times was impossible for me to believe.
AND YET! Advanced stats believed they left quite a lot on the table!
Officiating mistakes led to their losses to Indiana and Michigan, injuries and...just straight-up goofy shit contributed to the Michigan State loss, and all of those elements were present in the division-losing contest against Purdue.
B. Opening Statement
What I believe is that Lovie Smith racked up a huge luck tab getting to the RedBox Bowl in 2019 after his 2-4 start and Bret Bielema was forced to pay it off last year.
So now we’re square, right?
Tommy DeVito, Chase Brown, Sydney Brown, Devon Witherspoon and Quan Martin are gone, but most of the offensive line and the entire defensive front seven return. If we actually have good coaches (even after losing some of the defensive brain trust), there’s no reason for a big step back.
III. Schedule of Events:
Sept. 2: vs Toledo Rockets
Sept. 8 (Friday): at Kansas Jayhawks
Sept. 16: vs Penn State Nittany Lions (BIG NUDE KICKOFF)
Sept. 23: vs Florida Atlantic Owls
Sept. 30: at Purdue Boilermakers
Oct. 6 (Friday): vs Nebraska Cornhuskers
Oct. 14: at Maryland Terrapins
Oct. 21: vs Wisconsin Badgers (Homecoming)
Nov. 4: at Minnesota Golden Gophers
Nov. 11: vs Indiana Hoosiers
Nov. 18: at Iowa Hawkeyes
Nov. 25: vs Northwestern Wildcats
IV. Appeal to Emotion
Let me start by saying that I have long since written off the Kansas game. Not last year when I saw Jalon Daniels, not when the Jayhawks hired Lance Leipold, but much farther back. As soon as this home-and-home was scheduled back in...what, 2015? 2016? In the David Beatty era? I accepted that Illinois scheduling a non-conference series against the worst team in FBS football meant that they would have a resurgence beginning within one year of the first game. I didn’t know who would coach either team, but I knew we would lose. I don’t need the Kansas game. You can have it.
That being said, what better way to send off the Big Ten West and college football as we’ve known it than for the 100th season of football at Memorial Stadium to wake up the echoes of Robert Zuppke’s dominant post-Great War teams? Who better to win the final B1G West crown before we enter an era defined by Big Ten Network Manifest Destiny than a man who coached in the league when the channel was launched? Remember when the BCS was just a few years old and Illinois came out of nowhere to make a run to the Sugar Bowl? Let’s run it back for old time’s sake.
I blogged and blogged and blogged through so many lean years, completely disregarding the concept of sunk cost fallacy and hoping against all odds that some day, I too would have a real college football program to root for. My twenties were spent in the tail end of the Zook twilight and the Beckman and Lovie eras, and then I lost most of year 31. All I asked was just ONE really fun season during which to do Illini Football before I had to do grown-up things all the time...specifically, being a parent.
Well, guess what? We’re about to start another season of college football and it remains uncertain if I’ll ever parent. You know what that means, don’t you?
LAST YEAR WASN’T THE YEAR.
For most of my time at OTE, I’ve been out here asking myself why I let a college football team bring me despair when I have plenty of good stuff going on. Irony of all ironies, I now find myself with plenty of not-so-great things going on, but at least I have Illini Football to be my rock. I have no emotional safety net for a repeat of 2008.
V. Closing Arguments
A. Seriously, I Don’t Want To Get Ahead Of Myself
I’ll settle for winning more games than we lose. I’ll be delighted to do that.
Nobody has the Illini missing a bowl! Fourteen predictions and no losing seasons!
That...makes me nervous!
Six of fourteen predictions have Illinois with at least a share of the Big Ten West crown. Reader, I regret to inform you that no such predictions have Illinois at 4-5 despite how fitting an achievement that would me.
What say you?
How many games do the Illini win?
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11 or more, the most they’ve ever won!
Fewer than 5
How many conference games do they win?
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More than 7
6, but Illinois loses all 3 crossover games, sweeping the west and somehow not winning the division
3 or fewer
BIG TEN WEST CHAMPS?
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