SOC – Western Michigan

Just imagine if this game was still scheduled for Kalamazoo. When Ron Guenther scheduled this game, (well, associate AD Chris Hanna scheduled it because WMU is his alma mater), they scheduled it for a road game AT Western Michigan. Us playing a team that might go 12-0 on the road? Would have been a nightmare. Instead, it’s just… a really scary dream. [Read more…]

SOC – North Carolina

I just went back and read through several old SOC posts. This is the eighth (EIGHTH!) season writing them, and I’m a comp guy, so I sometimes want to go back and see how I felt leading up to a similar game. Tomorrow is close to a sellout, and our last sellout was Michigan 2011, so I’m starting with 2011 Michigan. [Read more…]

SOC – Murray State

This is gonna be a long one. As you know, I’m very “I meant what I said and I said what I meant, an elephant’s faithful 100%”, so if I promised to finish The 90 Illini before the season, I’m going to finish. Tonight. So this post will complete the 90 Illini AND predict the season AND predict tomorrow’s game. [Read more…]

SOC – BOWL GAME

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.

[Read more…]

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
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