I’m just sitting here thinking about the new uniforms. When they were revealed back in April, there was lots of excitement. We got rid of our Voit sneakers and put on some Jordans. But since April there’s been this constant WHO CARES WHEN THE TEAM GOES 3-9 EVERY YEAR shout-down of all things uniform excitement. Now, tomorrow, those unis will be in a bowl game. [Read more…]

SOC – Penn State

It’s always odd to see the permalink name assigned to each post. If I’ve used a title before, it will automatically add a number. This here is soc-penn-state-5. Which means I’ve not SOC’d Penn State five times. It actually might be six, since the first year I titled every post “Stream Of Consciousness”. I should get started. [Read more…]

SOC – Minnesota

Stream Of Consciousness posts this year have a theme: me going around on Friday nights avoiding what I really feel about the game and then writing that. In August, I felt like the team wasn’t mentally read for the first game. Three weeks ago, pretty sure we were losing to hapless Purdue. Tonight, still feel like Minnesota is beatable.

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SOC – Texas State

I need a blowout. My Mississippi State coworker asked me who we play this week today, and my response was “Texas State – I need to see a blowout”. His team is headed to play LSU in Baton Rouge; my team has a little bit easier road to victory. Texas State at home, and I need to see a blowout. I mean I really, really need it. [Read more…]

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.

[Read more…]

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
at Wisconsin

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:


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.


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