SOC - Northwestern
I'm happy this is the last SOC of the year. By February I'll be wishing there was more football, but right now, especially after the Iowa drubbing and then the 0-3 trip to Maui, I'm just ready for it all to be over. Just get me to 2019. Not just football, but basketball too.
I wrote about this over the summer but I'll say it again: the 2019/20 school year is going to be everything for Illini athletics. That's when we find out of either of these programs are going anywhere. Yes, it's only November and the basketball program could still prove it this year, but let's be honest, it's not going to happen this year. Not with so many new players. Nobody has any idea what they're doing yet, and that's probably not going to change until February. I could maybe see a late season surge for this team, but really, we're likely headed for something like 13-18.
And football - I'm just ready for the season to be over so we can forget about the three 60-balls and the two games with five turnovers. They're staring me in the face right now, screaming "this rebuild isn't going anywhere - a team that's going somewhere isn't going to lose 63-0 in game #35". It's weird for me to say, but the possibility exists that we could somehow win tomorrow, finish the season 5-7 (ahead of my preseason expectations and a pass from Rivers to Smalling against USF away from a bowl), and I'd somehow be more disappointed than the 4-8 season I expected. 63-0 (or 712 yards to Maryland, or 5 turnovers at Wisconsin)... it's just so impossible to forget.
Just get this behind us so we can get to the years that matter. The football program has been pointing towards 2019 and 2020 since Lovie started playing the freshmen over the juniors, so can we just get there please? There's only one awful, horrific, watch-Fitzee-beat-us-and-then-head-to-Indy game left between here and 2019, so can we please just get this over with?
Because if either of these programs is going anywhere, we're going to learn in 2019. Football, season four, everyone back, finally a bunch of juniors and seniors on the field, hopefully a big step forward. And then immediately following that season, a basketball season with most everyone back, (hopefully) sophomore leaps from several players, 11 returning players instead of the current 4, everyone is versed in the system, Trent as a junior plus Ayo as a sophomore, time to take a step forward.
365 days from today we'll have a really good idea where everything is headed. Lovie will have completed his fourth season and likely either be extended or fired, Underwood will have just signed his third class and will be +/- five games into the season (hopefully 5-0, not 1-4 like right now) - we'll know what we need to know. Was all of the roster turnover worth it? The answer right now, for both teams, is a resounding "NO" but I'm willing to wait one more year to see what happens.
As for this specific game? Man, don't make me talk about this game. I hate this game. I'll be sick to my stomach all day tomorrow. Watch us lose to Northwestern for the fourth year in a row? Watch an offense that pretty much everyone has stopped this season go off for a ton of points and yard after yard? This game has such great "why do we put ourselves through this?" potential.
I mean, statistically, we should be able to hang in this game. It's so stupid that Northwestern won the Big Ten West. Just look at their offensive NERDstats in the S&P+:
Explosiveness: 124th our of 130 teams
Offensive Efficiency: 117th
Points Per Scoring Opportunity: 109th
Rushing S&P+: 122nd
In some ways, they're the offensive version of our defense. And they're going to the Big Ten Championship Game. It's so incredibly Northwestern.
Can we make them pay for tripping down the stairs and falling into the Big Ten title game? We cannot! Because we suck! Because this is the worst Illini defense of our lifetimes! An opportunity exists to pull the upset if we were just an average 4-7 football team and we're nowhere close to that.
Which means we're not going to win. Which means the season will mercifully end. Which, honestly, is a relief.
Northwestern 33, Illinois 10