SOC – Washington

First things first – it’s the realist. This state is just fantastic. My sister went to grad school in Oregon, so I spent a lot of time there over the years, but I never really ventured north. These islands in and around Puget Sound? Pretty incredible. I’ll warn you – I’m on a high right now after watching that sunset with my wife.

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SOC – Purdue; Now With 47% More Hoops Thoughts

This will be a two-part SOC. Some thoughts on the basketball game tonight, and then a lot of words on how I’m scared to death of the Purdue game tomorrow.

First, basketball. This was definitely Ekey Week. 19 points against Bradley on Sunday, with five threes and a put-back dunk, and then 19 points tonight with five threes and a put-back dunk. Without Ekey on Sunday, we still beat Bradley easily. Without Ekey tonight… this game would have been interesting.

It’s an interesting thing, this whole “transfer in for one season” thing. Sam Maniscalco two years ago. Sam McLaurin last year. Jon Ekey this year. Ahmad Starks next year. Add in Rayvonte Rice this season and Aaron Cosby + Darius Paul next season, and after years and years of having zero transfers, now they’re all immediate impact players.

Not that I’m complaining. With only Joseph Bertrand, Nnanna Egwu, and Tracy Abrams returning from last season, this year was going to be a really, really young team. Plugging in Ekey and Rice most likely averted disaster. Seriously, if you think of the top-3 storylines for the first five games, I’d go with the following:

1) Rayvonte Rice is probably this team’s go-to player.
2) Jon Ekey is the perfect stretch four for this offense.
3) Jaylon Tate is easily the best of the freshmen.

Please notice I didn’t mention Egwu, Abrams, or Bertrand. And that’s probably not a good thing. If this team is going to go anywhere, those three guys are going to have to make big jumps forward. Kind of like Ekey and Rice have done.

One more basketball thing before football: I was pleasantly surprised by Austin Colbert tonight. He only had two points and three rebounds, but he continues to look a little further along than I thought he would. Seems to understand defensive positioning and high screens. And he had the second-most minutes off the bench behind Tate. I really didn’t expect Austin Colbert to have more minutes than Malcolm Hill in any game this year. Yes, once Big Ten season arrives, he’s probably going to struggle to keep up with the Mitch McGary’s of the world, but I wanted to note that I moved Colbert into the “pleasant surprise” category this evening.

OK, on to football.

Here’s where I’m at: kind of sick to my stomach. I feel like so much spins on tomorrow. I want to go back and quote something I wrote after the Miami, Ohio game (my “Can We Find Three Wins” post where I evaluated our chances of getting to 6-6). It will help explain why I’m so sick to my stomach.

Here I was looking for Big Ten wins the day before the Nebraska game:

Indiana and Purdue are the most obvious, but I’m pretty sure Indiana beats Penn State tomorrow, so maybe I should be looking at Purdue and Penn State. But again, every game I’m looking at is a road game, and Illinois last played well on the road in the Big Ten in 1951.

Man what I wouldn’t give to have next year’s schedule this year. Home games with Purdue, Minnesota, Iowa, and Penn State. Even with this young team, I’d mark down three wins and go looking for a fourth on the road. But with this schedule, everything is backwards. Easier games are on the road, where we probably won’t play well, and hard games are at home, where we might put up a fight but won’t be able to overcome.

OK, back to the list. I’m no oddsmaker, but here’s a guess on those lines:

at Nebraska – Nebraska -10
Wisconsin – Wisconsin -9
Michigan State – MSU -5
at Penn State – Penn State -6
at Indiana – Indiana -4
Ohio State – Ohio State -16
at Purdue – Purdue +3
Northwestern – NUrds -7

No, I can’t find three wins. I really really really want to find three wins. But I just don’t see them. I want to look at yesterday’s NERDstats and think “yes, our efficiency numbers are off the charts – we’re for real”, but when I apply all of the information – things I saw in the spring, things I saw in Rantoul, what we’ve seen so far on the field, what this team might do when the pressure of that Big Ten losing streak hits – I just can’t find three Big Ten wins. 2-6 with one upset (home against Northwestern? at Penn State?) is the best I can do.

Given that starting point, I think this best explains why I’m not as FIREBECKMAN-y as some of you. Before the Big Ten season, while we were 3-1 with a win over Cincy (who is 8-2 now, by the way), I took an honest look at this schedule and said “2-6 with one upset (home against Northwestern? at Penn State?) is the best I can do.” We lost that Penn State game in overtime, so now we’d have to win that Northwestern game to get there, assuming we can beat Purdue.

Assuming we can beat Purdue. So much spins on tomorrow. Here’s what I’ve been thinking about all day: Win tomorrow, and we might win 7 of our next 10. Tomorrow could be the turning point. Here’s the next 10 games.

at Purdue (0-6 in B1G)
Northwestern (0-6 in B1G)
Youngstown State
Western Kentucky
at Washington
Texas State
at Nebraska
Purdue
at Wisconsin
Minnesota

Win tomorrow, and I see no reason we can’t win the next six home games. We bring back more lettermen next year than any year of the last 10, and we add Wes Lunt, and we face that schedule. At the very least, we should be 6-4 in these 10 games. Everything should start to turn tomorrow.

Which is why I feel like we’ll lose. In re-reading that post before the Big Ten season, I saw my thoughts about this Purdue game in early October:

I don’t see a single certain victory on the schedule. Purdue would be, but it’s at Purdue. And late in the season. They’ll likely go 0-8 in the conference, and their only chance to go 1-7 is to beat us at home on the Saturday before Thanksgiving. They’ll be up for that game, their true freshman QB will have multiple starts under his belt, so I can easily see something like last year. Purdue was our one shot to go 1-7… and we lost 20-17. I just have a feeling that game will be close.

Yep, that hasn’t changed. They’re still hurtling towards 0-8, and it’s Senior Day for them, and they’ve kind of rolled over since their Michigan State game, but this is their one chance to play like they played against Notre Dame (yes, this Purdue team nearly beat Notre Dame the night we played Washington).

So I can’t shake this feeling that we’ll lose. Looking at the forecast (below freezing and 20-30 mph winds) reinforces that. If we can’t throw, we can’t do much on offense. And I’m not sure we can throw tomorrow.

I might as well get it over with. This is our chance to start the turn. To flip this rebuild into progress mode. To start to look at maybe a six game home winning streak with weak opponents (finally) coming to Champaign. But I just can’t shake the feeling that we won’t get there. And this is an SOC post, so I go with my gut.

Purdue 21, Illinois 17

SOC – Ohio State

I don’t have many words left. Not much consciousness, either. Today kind of took everything out of me, culminating in that basketball post.

Which is fine, because what am I supposed to say about this football game? Our conference losing streak is about to enter the 20′s, and to keep that from happening we have to stop the #3 team in the country. When we’re, like, 34 point underdogs. What can be said about that? How are you supposed to break that down?

Actually, I know something we can talk about. The helmets. We’re wearing these helmets for the game:

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The stars represent the 10 Illini players who died in battle. So yeah, this is pretty much the exact opposite of what Northwestern is doing tomorrow. Subtle and poignant, not flashy with drops of blood on the flag. I love these helmets.

If I was insane, I would use that as a launching point for tomorrow being a surprise. We’re wearing these helmets, so that’s a start. And then there’s the whole “Illinois playing Ohio State in November in a year when Ohio State is trying to get to the national championship game” thing. In 2002, they were supposed to blow us out but we took them to overtime. In 2006, they were supposed to roll us in Champaign but only won 17-10 in a game where Illinois actually had more yards. And in 2007, well, you know what happened in 2007.

The third reason we might surprise: I wont be at the game tomorrow. My son has a high school playoff game at 1:00, and duh, I’m going to that instead. He’s had only Friday night games so far, but this one is on Saturday, so there will be no press box for me tomorrow. And when I can’t make it, something great nearly always happens. Andy Kauffman Iowa game… the aforementioned 2007 Ohio State game… if I’m not around, we usually surprise.

But I’m not insane, so I’m not predicting any of that. I do think we cover the spread, mostly because the only real weakness Ohio State has shown this year is passing defense, where teams Cal and Northwestern threw for a lot of yards. And that’s the one thing we do well. So I think we can score some points. But I don’t think we can win.

That’s it. I’m out of words. Go Illini.

Ohio State 48, Illinois 24

SOC – Indiana

This is a Stream Of Consciousness post, so I reserve the right to ramble a little bit before I talk about the Indiana game tomorrow.

First, I’d just like to note that you’re going to have to start watching the bylines now. Basketball season has begun, which means some of the basketball posts will be written by Brumby. And Tyler Griffey will be writing some posts, so you’ll need to watch for that, too. So when you open a post, check to see who wrote it. It will save you from the feeling of “wow, Robert REALLY upped his basketball knowledge in the offseason”. I’ll still be writing basketball stuff (I’ll be in Champaign covering the game on Sunday), but so will Brumby. And Tyler. And maybe we’ll make Detlef do a “Those Were The Days – Indiana University Purdue University Fort Wayne”.

Second, I didn’t get to watch the basketball game tonight because I was at my son’s football game. They won. The good: he made a special teams tackle on a kickoff at the eight. A regular Steve Tasker, that one. The bad: on fourth and inches, the other team ran a sweep and he had the guy dead to rights for the TFL… but he broke the tackle and picked up the first down. I knew my son would be this way, but when he came off the field after the game that’s all he could think about. “I had him… I had him.” On to the quarterfinals.

Speaking of improved special teams coverage and broken tackles on fourth and inches, Illinois v. Indiana tomorrow! And as of right now, I don’t have a very good feeling about it at all. I so wish the Purdue game was tomorrow and the Indiana game was in three weeks. Because the defense showed great strides at Penn State on Saturday, basically shutting Penn State down for the last three quarters. But Indiana’s offense is much, much better, and I think they pick us apart.

Can we keep up? I’m not sure. A lot depends on the health of Josh Ferguson. He didn’t show up on the injury report yesterday, but that doesn’t really mean much, as players have not been on the injury list and then showed up in street clothes on Saturday. Last we saw Ferguson he was limping off the field with a hamstring injury, never to return to the PSU game. Is it better? Will he play on Saturday? If he plays, is he 100%? This offense really needs him, and if he’s in any way limited (or out), I don’t think there’s any way we hang with Indiana in a shootout.

The one good thing we have going for us is that Indiana lost last week to Minnesota, which means this game is somewhat meaningless for them (as far as bowls are concerned). Had they won last week, they’d be approaching this game like Purdue and Minnesota approached our games last year: we’re not going to beat Team X and Team Y, so if we’re going to make a bowl, we HAVE to beat Team Z.

Had Indiana won over Minnesota, that’s what they’d be looking at in this game. They’re not going to win at Ohio State or at Wisconsin, so their one chance to make a bowl was to beat Minnesota, Illinois, and Purdue. That Minnesota loss killed any hope of a bowl, so now, hopefully, they’ve somewhat rolled over. I’d love to see a lackadaisical Indiana offense throw two first-half interceptions tomorrow because they’ve started going through the motions and looking for next season.

Two first half interceptions? Who am I kidding? We are dead last in all of football with ONE interception in eight games. Northwestern has 18 interceptions. We have ONE. I’ve given up waiting for it to inevitably happen. It’s just never going to happen. Quite possibly ever again. We have seen our last Illini interception. Rest in peace, Al Brosky.

To win games like tomorrow, you have to win the turnover battle. I’m not sure we’re even capable of that. So I just can’t see a win. I’d love to see it – win tomorrow and beat Purdue and then that Northwestern game after Thanksgiving is a bowl qualification game. So things could turn around quickly with a win.

But again, who am I kidding? We’ve lost 18 straight Big Ten games. I should worry about finding one win, not three. And I don’t think it’s tomorrow.

Indiana 49, Illinois 33

SOC – Michigan State

I’ve reached a breaking point with turnovers. I refuse to believe they won’t arrive soon. A quick recap if you don’t know what I’m talking about.

In turnovers this season – turnovers created by our defense – we’re 122nd out of 123 FBS teams. We’ve created five turnovers this year in six games. Five. Only Troy is worse with four.

If we just look at interceptions, in the last 10 seasons, we’re dead last in all of college football. Dead last. Eastern Michigan is second to last with 85 interceptions the last 10 years. We’re last with 83. Some schools have more than 200 in that time span. We have 83. And this season, we’re dead last in interceptions with one. And that was in our first game.

At some point, that HAS to happen for us. It just does. We’re not going to go the next three seasons without another interception, right? Because sometimes, interceptions are just flat luck. Fumbles, too. Look at last week. We’re running some crazy slappity-flippity-do Cubit play (I say that in a positive way) and we bobble the pitch. The ball hits the ground and bounces directly to a Wisconsin player for an easy recovery. At our eight yard line. Did Wisconsin do anything to gain that turnover? No. They just played their normal defense and their opponent handed them the ball at the eight.

That has to happen for us some time, right? Like, we’ll have that season where we fumble 18 times but recover 16 of them ourselves (that actually happened once – that Oklahoma team that lost in the title game to Florida was something like “fumbles – 20; fumbles lost – 2″). Sometimes, every single bounce truly goes your way.

Remember the Rose Bowl? Can you recall a crazier luck game? USC still wins that game handily without the luck, but the pass tipped up in the air that hit a receiver in stride… that ball that bounced directly to Joe McKnight… that was just one of those “every bounce went our way” games, wasn’t it?

Don’t we deserve one of those? When will that happen for us? How many questions can I ask in one Stream Of Consciousness post?

Who remembers the Penn State game in 2007? The Rejus Benn returning a kickoff for a touchdown game. The Rejus “STILL ON HIS FEET” game. Little-remembered fact about that game: in the second half, our offense could do nothing. We couldn’t even get Rashard going. We just kept giving the ball back to Penn State. So how did we win? We got not one, not two, not three, but FOUR turnovers in the final 16 minutes of the game. Three interceptions and a fumble recovery (Anthony Morelli was diving for a first down and I think Kevin Mitchell punched it out).

It’s easy to point to that game and say “that defense, especially that secondary, was really good at creating turnovers”. And there’s some truth to that. Good defenses – especially those that can pressure the quarterback – create turnovers.

But sometimes, turnovers are just the other team screwing up royally. Sometimes the option pitch is dropped. Sometimes the quarterback sails the pass over his receiver’s head and directly to your safety. Sometimes the quarterback doesn’t get the ball from the center and it falls at your nose guard’s feet. Sometimes there are gifts. And we’re dead last in gifts this year.

And sometimes, it’s blind luck. Remember the Bears’ interception to seal the game against the Giants a few weeks ago? The Giants tight end goes up for the pass, it slips through his fingers, and deflects down and to the left, directly to the Bears’ cornerback. Sometimes, all of the bounces go your way.

We haven’t had all of the bounces go our way in a long, long time. We haven’t had the other team screw up royally and hand us gift turnovers in a long, long time. Every team gets these gifts, and it just doesn’t seem to ever happen for us.

So tonight, I’m going in a different direction with the SOC. I do think we’re going to lose tomorrow – something like 27-17 feels right – but that’s not going to be my prediction. I’m predicting that the Turnover Fairy shows up and we win. It’s been too long. It has to happen soon. There’s no way any team goes this long without some gifts.

We are SO VERY MUCH OVERDUE for gift turnovers. A ball snapped over the opponent’s punter’s head. A pass where the receiver isn’t looking and it doinks off their helmet and directly to our cornerback. We’ve proven that we can’t create turnovers – second to last in sacks, last in interceptions tells you that – but that doesn’t mean we can’t luck into turnovers.

And Michigan State’s offense has looked shaky (one offensive touchdown vs. Purdue?), and their quarterback looks ripe for throwing two dumb picks into the wind, and their tailback just feels like someone who is going to put one on the turf, and maybe their kick returner is just dying to muff a punt.

Yep, I’m predicting a win. We’ll get outgained, we’ll give up yard after yard on the ground, but finally – FINALLY – we get some gift turnovers and that’s enough to win on homecoming. Lord help me I’m predicting a win.

Illinois 27, Michigan State 17

SOC – Northwestern

June 2013 me hates November 2012 me right now. June 2013 me would give anything for a football game tomorrow. Yet here I sit, just wanting to get it over with.

Tomorrow’s game feels like a trip to the dentist. You girlfriend asking to meet for coffee “to talk”. Your boss asking you to shut the door behind you. No part of me wants to watch this game.

Why?

1. In the season where I had to admit that Pat Fitzgerald is a good coach, I have to watch him on the sideline when they destroy us. With that goofy smirk on his face. And I’ll have to just sit there and take it.

2. We’re about to lose our 10th game for the fourth time in the last ten seasons. 1-11 in 2003, 2-10 in 2006, 2-10 in 2006, and now 2-10 again in 2012. What’s that Lassie? Illinois fans have been thrown down the well again?

3. Teddy Greenstein will take 14 shots at Illinois on Twitter tomorrow, and I’ll read them all. Yet I can’t unfollow. He has my dream job. Get to write about a Big Ten conference team and your bosses allow you to be a wild homer for the team you cover. It’s the way all teams will be covered soon (seriously), and I’m jealous of the way Teddy does it. The Trib is way ahead of the game on this one.

4. One more time of looking at our defense and wondering what happened. After the final six games last year, we kinda sorta knew this offense was going to struggle. But we had no idea this defense would be 11th in the Big Ten in points allowed.

No, tomorrow will not be fun.

When looking at some of the other college football rivalry scores earlier this evening, I kind of had this “oh man what if we won?” moment. 2-9 Washington State beat a ranked Washington team in the Apple Cup. 4-7 Arkansas almost beat #7 LSU. Is it possible that we could have one of those games where everything goes our way and we knock off Northwestern? Maybe. Anything’s possible, I suppose, especially in these rivalry games.

But I just can’t see it. Not this year. Northwestern has lost two straight LOL Trophy games, and I can’t see them losing a third. Especially since the last time up there we embarrassed them at their Wrigley coming out party.

And then last year we overcame a 28-10 deficit, fumbled to nearly give the game back, and then drove the length of the field for a touchdown in the final minute to win. Both of those losses still sting for Northwestern. So I can’t see them folding in this one.

So yes, tomorrow will be hard to watch. I think Northwestern wins handily, and Fitzee celebrates a 9th win on my television, and there’s nothing I can do about it. I’ll just have to sit there and take it. Can we please just skip from Friday to Sunday?

Northwestern 34, Illinois 10

SOC – Purdue

It’s been one of those days. Only a few hours sleep. Coworker sick for the second day in a row, so I had to help get one of his projects out the door, meaning I’ll have to work on my project over the weekend. And something kicked my allergies into high gear, so I’m typing this through itchy eyes and wheezing lungs. The Zyrtec should knock that out in a couple minutes, but the Zyrtec will also knock me out in a couple minutes. And I have a basketball game to watch tonight.

*makes violin motion*

So the consciousness I’m streaming tonight is of the negative variety. Hey! What say we talk about Illini Football!

Oh, did I mention I won’t be at the game tomorrow? Actually, I think I did mention that. There’s an event at my son’s school at 5:00. The ONE TIME I need a game to be at 11:00, we get a 2:30 start.

My son’s school is a parochial school. The event is in the chapel. I have BTN2go on my phone. Plenty of cell service in there (I’ve checked). If the game is close, I might act out one of those cell phone commercials with a YESSSS at a quiet moment.

OK, let’s be real. I just typed “if the game is close” when talking about our game tomorrow. We just lost to Indiana and Minnesota at home, and here I am all if-the-game-is-close-ing the Purdue game. Purdue can go to a bowl game if they beat us and they beat Indiana. They’re motivated. We, apparently, are not. So even though I want to believe we’re due for a “turnovers are fun” game, it’s just not going to happen tomorrow.

So I’m resigned to “things I’d like to see”:

1) Donovonn Young beast mode. Just keep feeding and feeding and feeding. See what happens if we stick to the run and then don’t abandon the run and then try sticking to the run. Purdue is 85th in rushing defense. Wear them down.

2) Gamble on defense. How ’bout the entire secondary blitzes? What about rushing one and dropping 10? Ok, maybe not those extremes, but please try something different. Try anything.

3) GO FOR IT ON FOURTH AND SHORT. A bowl is gone. The season is lost. I’d totally be find with not punting once tomorrow.

Man, this Zyrtec is really starting to hit. Sooooo…. sleepy….

Might as well wrap this up. The basketball game is starting, the feed is already frozen, I have to get up at 5:00, I’m starting to get a headache, the house is too cold, the orange juice I just drank was starting to go bad, Illini football has lost 12 Big Ten games in a row, and my beard looks terrible today. Today… was not a good day.

Purdue 23, Illinois 7

SOC – Minnesota

Oh yeah, football.

When the football team is already bowl ineligible by the time basketball starts (and it’s happened a lot at Illinois), the changeover from gridiron to hoops happens so very quickly. In years like 2003, the changeover happened around midnight madness. Same with 1998. In other years, like 2010, for me, the switch isn’t until January.

By the way, this is a Stream Of Consciousness post, right? I’m going to change gears real quick. This demo phone that Verizon gave me (my job is to use it in my blogging endeavors and report back on it’s usability) has been a godsend tonight. Couldn’t connect to the wifi courtside? Set up a mobile hotspot on the RAZR M and continue doing my thing in press row with wifi linked through the 4G LTE signal. You know that commercial with the kid on the tuba? I kind of laughed at that commercial. And then that was me tonight. And now, in the hotel, with wifi crawling at a snail’s pace, guess what I’m doing? TUBA WIFI. PSA: If Verizon ever approaches you and asks you to demo a phone, DO IT.

Oh yeah, football.

My friend Dave and I talked about this tonight at Bamba. Probably the same conversation you’ve had with your friends this week. “So, do we… maybe… have a chance?” That’s how far Illini football has sunk. “Do we… maybe… have a chance?”

I think we do. But I don’t think we’re going to win.

Minnesota is only 85th in total offense – the worst offense we’ll have faced since Charleston Southern – so there’s a little hope there. After weeks of decent-to-good offenses, we get a Minnesota O with a true freshman QB and a few injured playmakers. So I think our defense can rebound a bit tomorrow. Maybe even have their best game of the Big Ten season.

But Minnesota has a solid D. Maybe even a “really good D”. They struggle a bit against the run, but they’re 10th nationally in passing defense. We’ll probably have to run the ball well to have a chance. And I’m just not sure we can run on them.

So I see this as a low scoring game. Their O struggles with our D, and vice versa. Which means this game probably comes down to turnovers, special teams, and penalties. Uh oh.

An another thing. When was the last time we beat Minnesota in Champaign. Go ahead, I’ll wait. Yep, 2010 was that inexplicable loss where they scored a touchdown with 15 seconds left. Yep, 2008 was that crazy game where we outgained them by over 200 yards but lost because we kept fumbling at our own 10. Didn’t play them in the mid 2000′s. 2003? Got killed 36-10. Would you believe 2001 is the last time we beat Minnesota in Champaign? Yes, they were God awful the last five years. And we never beat them in Champaign.

So with all of that, I just can’t predict a victory. I want to. My hopeful side wants to take over and cling to something that says “we’re not going to lose 20 straight Big Ten games or anything – we’ve already hit rock bottom.” I’d love to envision a scenario where this game DOES come down to special teams, and Terry Hawthorne’s returns are the difference. But I just can’t stay there. I feel like a late mistake dooms us against Minnesota at home again.

Minnesota 17, Illinois 13

SOC – Ohio State

I’m resigned to wanting a Minnesota finish. Is that so bad?

Yes it is. Here’s what I mean. Minnesota fired Tim Brewster and hired Jerry Kill. They looked OK in their opener with USC last year, but then they were awful. Home loss to New Mexico State. Home loss to FCS North Dakota State. Open Big Ten play with a 58-0 loss at Michigan (sound familiar?). Lose to Purdue by 28. Lost to Nebraska by 27. They looked like one of the worst Big Ten teams on record at that point (sound familiar?)

But then, late in the season, they shocked Iowa at home 22-21. And they hung with eventual Legends champ Michigan State on the road, losing by seven. And then in their last game, they kind of totally destroyed us at home. So no, they weren’t one of the worst Big Ten teams in history. And I don’t want to be either.

That’s kind of what Illini fans need at this point. Something that tells us we’re not headed for another 2-30 four year run (lose our next four and we’re halfway there – seriously). Tim Beckman and his coaching staff need to show that their teams will get better as the season goes on. They need to show what Jerry Kill showed late last season – that even with a 3-9 record, there’s a little hope that things can start to turn around.

November is that kind of month around college football. I have no stats, but it feels like 60% of the head-scratcher upsets happen in November. Remember 2007? Ohio State has a shot at the national title… and then they lose to us. Oregon has a chance to play for the title… and then they lose to Arizona. Which means Oklahoma can move up to… they lose to Texas Tech. Which means West Virginia has it locked up if they can beat Pitt… and they lose. Which means Missouri can actually play for the national title… and they lose to Oklahoma.

But it’s not just that. Head scratchers just seem to always happen in November. And we never get to play. That 2007 upset at Ohio State was our last head-scratcher win. Seriously. In the five years that followed, the only Illini win that made people scratch their heads and say “really? Illinois?” was… maybe Penn State 2010? But they were bad that year. Maybe Baylor? Nah – nobody knew how good RGIII was back then. Yeah, in nearly five seasons, if we’re supposed to lose to a superior opponent, we do.

This won’t be the head scratcher, by the way. That’s not where I’m going with this. This is a loss. But I’m looking ahead to our three games after that. Is it too much to ask us to kill this losing streak and win one of them? How about two? Is that too much to ask?

(probably)

I’m just longing to see some fight, that’s all. I want to see us punch. I feel like I’ve been watching a boxing match, and we’re in between round eight and round nine right now, and our boxer has pretty much just been standing there protecting his face the first eight rounds. And when he gets cornered, he latches on for a hug until the ref breaks them up.

So now you already know the fight is over. Our guy has already lost too many rounds to win the fight. And we know he doesn’t have it in him for a knockout. But it is too much to ask that he come out in Round Nine and start swinging? You know, to the point where maybe the crowd gets into it a little bit and the opponent is stunned for a few seconds?

And so you still lose the round, but you come out stronger in Round Ten and actually win a round? And even though you’re losing the fight, you still feel pretty good about your future in boxing? Could we maybe possibly kind of do that the next four weeks please?

I just want to see some fight. That’s all I want. Fight. Even though we’re losing this round, please throw some punches. Maybe we can learn something we can use in the next round.

Ohio State 37, Illinois 10

SOC – Indiana

It’s strange trying to get back into the Friday night Stream Of Consciousness groove after a bye week. Well, I should say, after a bye week after we started 2-5. After a bye week after we started 2-5 losing five games by 17 points or more. After a bye week after we started 2-5 losing five games by 17 points or more with the last football we watched being negative two yards in the second half against Michigan’s second string defense.

It’s strange. May is always so depressing. Rantoul led to FOOTBALL led to more football led right into basketball and then March Madness followed by spring football. And then, after the spring game, a 100-day dead period. It feels like the season will never arrive. I can hardly wait until I can sit down here and type out the first SOC.

And now, seven weeks into the season, it feels like not having a game last Saturday was better than having a game. Kind of like crossing a busy street and finally making it to the median. It was exciting when I stepped off the curb, but then it was immediately terrifying. This median is great, though. No danger, nothing to worry about. The only bad part is that now we have to step out into traffic again. Worst game of Frogger EVER.

2-5. Five absolute blowout losses. I’m not really sure how the season could have started worse. Which reminds me – I looked back at the ESPN Big Ten Blog “Best Case, Worst Case” preseason post this week. Not sure why. Guess I wanted to see what Brian and Adam thought the worst case would be for this season.

Their best case scenario for this season had us beating Michigan in the Big Ten Championship Game and going on to the Rose Bowl (yes, really). Worst case said this:

They fired Ron Zook for this? Beckman finds that he’s not in Toledo anymore, as his transition to the Big Ten is a rough one. While the defense is solid, it misses Whitney Mercilus and Vic Koenning more than anyone realized. The spread system is an odd fit for a team that lacks many playmakers at receiver or running back, and neither Scheelhaase nor Reilly O’Toole is fully able to master it in a seesaw quarterback competition. Much like the second half of last year, Illinois simply can’t score, and its special-teams play hasn’t improved much.

The Beckman era gets off to a shaky start when Western Michigan — which played a close game in Champaign a year ago — springs the upset in the opener. The Illini are 0-2 after a loss at Arizona State. They rebound to win the next two but are crushed at home by a Penn State team that’s angry about all those Illini assistants sniffing around State College this summer. That begins a spiral of losing, as the next two games are blowouts on the road at Wisconsin and Michigan. Illinois beats Indiana but falls at Ohio State, drops another home game to Purdue and ends the year getting pushed around by resurgent Northwestern. The Wildcats somehow win the Big Ten and prompt Chicago to dye the river purple. Meanwhile, the Illini sit at home after a 4-8 season, wondering what the future holds.

Ouch, baby. Ouch. At this point I’d take 4-8. I’m guessing you would, too.

OK, this is getting depressing. Let’s talk Indiana game.

Yes, they’re improved. NERDstats have them #6 nationally in offensive efficiency. On the surface this looks like loss #6. But let’s dig deeper before I chalk this one up as a loss.

Our first three Big Ten opponents are a combined 10-0 in the conference. Our next three home opponents are a combined 0-9 in the Big Ten. So our schedule is going to improve.

Navy was shut out at home by San Jose State. Then, last week, they beat Indiana 31-30. Ready to wake up, offense? This might be your chance.

Indiana is the only team in the country that hasn’t lost a fumble yet. Seven games, four fumbles, they recovered them all. The 1972 Miami Dolphins of turnovers are getting ready to toast each other. Nobody goes eight full games without losing a fumble. Their luck is going to run out soon. Maybe to the tune of a four fumble game.

Jonathan Brown is getting close to 100%. Terry Hawthorne will return. Nathan Scheelhaase has been cleared to play. Hugh Thornton should be back close to 100%. This will be as healthy as we’ve been since the opener.

Indiana has won six Big Ten road games since 1995. 17+ seasons, six road wins. 6-63 on the road in conference over that span.

All of this means one thing: we pretty much have to win tomorrow. Yes, IU’s offense is greatly improved. Just like Arizona State, if they get on a roll early, this could get out of hand quickly.

But it’s Indiana. At home. And their defense is terrible. And we’re at home. Against Indiana. Who is playing on the road in the Big Ten. And we’re coming off a bye and desperately need the win. Over Indiana. At home.

Illinois 28, Indiana 24