SOC - Cal
First off, apologies for this post not going up last night. There's a bug in the system, and I don't know what button to push (OK, yes, I told Brumby to never allow me near the buttons), so until he's available, there's no way to publish this. And as I'm saying this, I'm not sure you'll ever read these words. What if he can't fix it until after gametime? Will I need to SOC on Twitter? WHAT IF THE INTERNET NEVER WORKS AGAIN?
Yeah OK this is kinda weird. I'm writing this, but I don't know if you'll ever see this. I have more words written below - words I wrote last night - but they might never exist on the world wide internet. I could get a text from Brumby in three minutes saying "I fixed it" or he might be in some underwater hotel in Barbados and nothing will show up on the website until he surfaces. What if we destroy Cal and I want to write about it but I can't?
I guess I shouldn't worry about it and just get to the SOC. After all, I don't get to write many BOWL GAME Stream Of Consciousness posts. So here we go.
All week I've felt really good. I keep going over Cal's schedule and I keep seeing that they haven't won big. They did beat Washington when they were ranked, but Washington then went 7-5. Let's just start by going through their schedule.
They beat UC-Davis (a 5-7 FCS team) by 14 at home. They beat 4-8 North Texas by 6 (also at home). Nearly every game they played was close. They had some great wins, but when they won, much like us, it was in the "barely" category. They beat Stanford by 4, Washington by 1, and Ole Miss by 8. They also lost to Oregon State by 4 and lost to Arizona State by 7. They had two blowout losses (35-0 loss to Utah, 41-17 loss to USC) and seven close wins. Could have maybe been 8-4, could have been 3-9. Their 7 wins were by 14, 13, 10, 8, 6, 4, and 1. Even playing North Texas and UC-Davis, they didn't have a single Akron or Rutgers or Purdue win like we had.
Then I look at the NERDstats and I feel even better. Well, "even better" meaning "they may be favored by a touchdown but this looks like an even matchup". Here's the SP+ rankings for the two teams:
Overall: 59th nationally
Special Teams: 9th
Special Teams: 120th
That looks like a game we win, right? Two poor offenses, two decent defenses, if it's a field position battle we have the 9th-best special teams and they have the 120th-best. Win that battle, win the game.
And I see everyone on earth picking Cal, and that makes me want to pick Illinois even more (fade the public). I get it after the Northwestern loss, but none of those people know how injured we were against Northwestern. We'll have several of those players back (at least I think we'll have several of those players back), and that should make for a different story. Had the season ended with the Iowa game, I think a lot of people would be picking us. (Of course, had the season ended with the Iowa game, that means those Iowa injuries to Peters and Bhebhe and Adams and company would have just happened and we'd be seeing what our team looked like without them OK now I'm completely off track.)
So I'm in this spot where I'm completely hinging this game on injuries. That's a dangerous spot - the first mention of it on Twitter will get me eleven THAT'S AN EXCUSE replies - but that's how I see this game. The Illini team from the Purdue game easily beats Cal (in my mind). The Illini team from the Northwestern game does not (because Cal would beat Northwestern handily). No, I'm not saying the Northwestern loss was an easy win if we were healthy - I noted in the postgame post that while the offensive injuries severely limited what we could do, that's no excuse for the defense giving up 375 rushing yards. My point is… well, my point needs its own paragraph.
After spending the week thinking we might roll Cal (we're motivated, we have our QB back, we might have a few other players back as well, we have seniors wanting to go out with a win), I've settled on close game. When I look at the NERDstats above I see two very similar teams. So I see a 20-17 score (or something similar).
Which means that this probably comes down to injuries. If everyone who was out for the Northwestern game was out for this game, it's a loss. Adams, Bhebhe, Woods, Peters, Hansen, et. al. - loss. We know that Peters is back, so that's a huge shot in the arm. If Bhebhe were to be back, bigger shot. Adams? Woods? HANSEN? Now we're talking. I move from loss to win just with those five players.
But then I ~hear things~ and I hear that two more wide receivers might be out. A WR corps already missing Smalling and Sidney and Stampley and Campbell and Carter and Holmes and Sandy. So if you add two more names to that list, there's not much left. You start talking about pulling Cumby's redshirt (he's played in four games and can't play in another) or maybe moving a DB or tailback over there. MAN do I wish that whole "Luke Ford can play in the bowl game" rumor was true.
This brings one thing front and center in my mind: can you win a football game without wide receivers? If you get your quarterback back that's a big boost, but what if he's throwing to freshmen and walkons? How quickly does Cal figure that out and simply key on the run (I mean, any more than they already will)? The offense has been poor to bad most of the season, so how will it fare if we really are missing nine wide receivers?
That takes all of my "uh, Cal is pretty bad, people - we're winning this game" and throws it away. I'm now down to "this will be a close game", and I'm only trying to figure out if we win or we lose. And as much as I hate to end SOC SZN like this, the thought of a walkon wide receiver running the wrong route and giving up a pick six just won't leave my brain. I just don't think we have enough depth there to win this football game.
On Christmas I was 98% predicting a win in this game. On Friday I figured I was going to have it 44-10 Illinois. I had a dream about another MicronPC Bowl performance on Saturday night. And now, the morning of the game, I've walked it all the way back over the line.
Cal 24, Illinois 20