SOC - South Florida
I'm breaking every rule of the Stream Of Consciousness post right now. Well, there's only one rule: write it the night before the game. I'm starting this one at noon. I'm already in Chicago, and my wife is doing some work right now here at this coffeehouse, so I'm gonna start the SOC. And then I'll continue it later tonight by adding my thoughts on the game and my prediction. NEVER predict the outcome until the game is hours away.
My first thought, obviously, is the suspensions and injuries. This game with Ricky Smalling and Lou Dorsey looks different than this game without Ricky Smalling and Lou Dorsey. This game with Bennett Williams, Nate Hobbs, and Jamal Milan on defense looks different than this game without Bennett Williams, Nate Hobbs, and Jamal Milan. Since I love to make up no-basis statistics, let's say that each player has a Points Above Replacement score. As in, without Bennett Williams, increase South Florida's final score by 1.9 (compared to this game if Bennett Williams is in there). Well, here's my PAR for some of the will-he-play-or-won't-he players tomorrow:
Bennett Williams - 1.9 PAR
Nate Hobbs - 1.7
Jamal Milan - 1.6
Tony Adams - 0.9
Delano Ware - 0.6
Ricky Smalling - 2.4
Lou Dorsey - 2.1
AJ Bush - 1.5
Carmoni Green - 0.6
That's not every injured/suspended player, but you get the idea. If you expect this game to be 28-24 Illinois, well, now it's 31-21 South Florida just because we don't have our full roster.
Why do I make up stats like this? Well, obviously, as seen by the comments every time I do it, to drive you insane. But I'm simply trying to make a point: these are very important players who have missed these first two games. Dorsey easily catches that touchdown pass which the freshman Barker dropped. Williams and Hobbs ABSOLUTELY do not allow that deep ball for a touchdown by WIU. Looking at it that way, I probably undershot the numbers above. Just add Dorsey, Williams, and Hobbs and I'm 95% certain you can change the Illinois/WIU score from 34-14 to 41-7. There's a reason I had all three of them in my top 10 before the season. And that's not even mentioning another top-10 guy (Smalling) who missed the WIU game. Nor is it mentioning that another top-10 guy (Dude K) is out for the year. Oh, and another top-10 guy (AJ Bush) missed most of the game. Oh yeah and Milan too (#15 on my list)
Understand where I'm going with this? The rest of the season will see the Illini struggle to replace Mikey Dudek's 3.3 PAR. The 2007 season kept a combined 11.6 PAR from Juice, Rejus, and Rashard together the entire season. The 1999 Rams thought they had lost everything when 3.8 PAR Trent Green tore his ACL in the preseason. And then out of nowhere comes this incredible 9.4 PAR quarterback from a HyVee grocery store in Iowa. Your best players make the difference. We were without six of our ten best players
ALL OF THAT TO SAY, how do you predict a game where you don't know who is playing? We know we're missing Dudek, but if we're also missing Smalling, Dorsey, Bush, Green, Williams, Hobbs, Milan, and Adams, we have no chance against South Florida. If we have a few of them back, OK, now we have a better chance. But we won't know until gametime.
We think Smalling and Bush will play, but are we sure? Are the suspended guys back or are they still suspended? Just adding Hobbs, Williams, Dorsey, and Green probably moves me more than a touchdown with tonight's prediction - add in more... OK, I'll stop. You get what I'm trying to say. If we had everyone, I'd feel like we could maybe pull this off. If all of them are out, I see no chance.
~using television magic, I have flashed forward 10 hours and I am now continuing this post in the hotel room at 10:30 pm~
OK, so that was a lot of words just to say "it's hard to predict this one without knowing if six of our top 10 players are still out". South Florida is young, so we're not in trouble there. They're not the same team as last year (I believe 13 starters graduated, including their do-everything quarterback), so we're in much better shape there. But they're still really athletic, and if we're going to match up with that athleticism, we're going to need all hands on deck. I don't think we'll have all hands on deck.
But man, do I wish we had all hands on deck. I still don't think we could win this one, but having everyone (in my opinion) would put us right there in the fourth quarter. I'd so love to be right there in the fourth quarter.
My wife and I just had dinner here in Chicago. Some restaurant with outdoor seating right out on the river. Unprovoked (I think it was the buildings that did the provoking), she wondered aloud how Illinois, in a state with a city like this, doesn't have a good football program. She had asked me if we were going to win tomorrow, and I told her no, and we had just been talking about how massive downtown Chicago was, and her brain put two and two together and she came to the same conclusion we've all come to over the years: with all of our resources, how are we so bad?
Which led me down the path of "but tomorrow..." again. I explained to her that if we won tomorrow, we'd be 3-0, and 3-0 is halfway to six wins, and six wins with a team that's 76% underclassmen would mean massive things in 2019 and 2020. And I began to daydream a little bit about tomorrow, wondering just how excited I would be if I was recording a From The Stands after a win. I'd probably talk for 25 minutes. I'd keep my promise and write 2,500 words on FINDING THREE MORE WINS on Sunday. It would feel like Louisville 1999.
But I still just can't see it. Even if all of the suspended players were to be eligible. We just went yard-for-yard with Western Illinois, and when you go yard for yard with Western Illinois, you're not beating a South Florida team that won 10 games last year. You're just not.
The thing that has stuck with me all week? Those final drives in the WIU game. We get the ball back with 8:00 to go looking to grind out a long drive and bleed the clock. We go three and out. Then we get an interception and we have the ball back with 5:00 to go looking to shove a tired, small, FCS defense to the side and run out the clock. Three and out and a punt.
Yes, we were up by 20 and it was mostly meaningless. But I'm looking for markers that we've taken a big step forward, and that's a marker that says "all year, we won't be able to grind out the tough yards on the ground - it's just not there yet". And without that there, I don't think we can beat South Florida. I'm SO READY to win a game like this, but I just don't think this team is ready to win a game like this. Not after a 7-point win over Kent State and a even-yards contest with Western Illinois. I see lots of points for South Florida tomorrow, and, unfortunately, not as many for us.
South Florida 41, Illinois 20