Stream Of Consciousness - Akron

Aug 30, 2019

The Stream Of Consciousness posts didn't start as a "series". My first year blogging (2009) I sat down at the computer nervous as all hell about the Missouri game the next day so I just wrote a post as a "stream of consciousness". And then I did it again, and again, and now I can't not do it.

If you're unfamiliar, I won't predict how a game is going to go until the night before. And I won't predict how a season will go until the night before. I just don't feel like I have all the information yet.

And when I write an SOC post, I don't edit. I don't even re-read. It is every word in my head, typed out on the keyboard, and then at the end I hit "publish". So I apologize for the typos ahead. (Full disclosure - I just finished the 90 Illini series and didn't edit that one either. It's Stream Of Consciousness night.)

First, the season prediction. And yes, I'm doing it.

I watched the Illinois/Penn State game from 2014 when it was on a few weeks ago. All month I've compared this team to 2014 (three quarterbacks, one a thrower, one a runner, one in between), and I've talked about how this training camp felt like that training camp ("hey, we're better"). So I figured it would be good to watch that whole game to see if this team felt like that team. And I came away feeling like this team is better than that team.

So that was the starting point for me. That night I went to bed thinking "I'm pretty sure I'm predicting 7-5 on August 30th". I just had the feeling that this team is better than everyone thinks and will have a bit of a breakout season.

Since that moment (the last 10 days, really), I have done EVERYTHING IN MY POWER to talk myself down. A few days of "you're doing it again - this is just August Syndrome" talk. Several days where I told myself, out loud, while driving, "Illinois always wins five games in a season that sets up like this. 1995, 2008, 2015 - it's ALWAYS five wins".

Because, honestly, predicting 5-7 is ABSOLUTELY the safest thing to do, right? When I predict what I'm going to predict below, you're going to say "there he goes again, drinking the kool-aid". Every fiber inside wants to play it safe. Vegas says over-under of 4.5. I MUST pick either four or five wins. I must.

But I've always said that I'm going to give you my honest opinion. When I predicted a loss to Louisiana Tech in 2012 I got more hate mail than any other prediction. When I predicted three wins in 2017 there was some "there are at least four, maybe five wins out there" backlash. When I predicted a win over Wisconsin in 2017, honestly, I thought we could beat Wisconsin (and I still maintain that we were right there until the end).

And my honest opinion is that "take the names off the front of the jerseys" matters. If it's another team setting up like this (year four, played 22 freshman two years prior, team jumped from 100 to 31 on the experience chart), and ESPECIALLY if that team has our non-conference schedule, I'm predicting a bowl game. There are a lot of Year Four examples out there where the team more than doubled its win total from the prior season. Colorado went 4 wins, 2 wins, 4 wins, 10 wins. Northwestern under Gary Barnett went 3 wins, 2 wins, 3 wins, 10 wins. Sometimes it's not "here they come - you could see this building". With gut-job rebuilds, it's "where did that come from?"

Which is why my prediction below isn't really based on "stuff" - there's no "you know guys, I think Lovie calling this defense will really improve some things". It's not "you know, these transfers really boost the talent level". Honestly, I'm not thinking about any of those things. The reason I predicted three wins in 2017 and four wins in 2018 was based simply on "this is the youngest team in college football". And now that it's not only NOT the youngest teams, it's quickly approaching one of the more experienced teams, I'm pretty much basing my prediction on that.

I think the best way to view my prediction is this: if we go 3-9 this season, it's all on the coaching. There's no youth excuse anymore. There's no depth excuse because we're finally back to 85 scholarship players. There's no "Beckman and Cubit left nothing behind" excuse because we're down to so few 2015 and 2016 players. It's now on the coaching staff to make it happen.

And everything is right there. 18 returning starters. A junior transfer QB. A star tailback (or two!). A schedule that is very getable. Five home games on the Big Ten schedule. There's no way around it - the coaching would have to be pretty putrid for that team to not go to a bowl.

I think they're going to a bowl. I think the turnover margin finally moves to the plus side. I think the experience matters. It scares me so much to approach this football since Lucy has pulled it so many times, but I think this is a decent football team. Maybe even good. I don't know why the hell I'm doing this, but here we go:

2019 season prediction: 7-5

And while I'm in this mood, I think we win big tomorrow. And I'm not sure that tells us very much about how good we are.

I think Akron is bad. On the returning starters chart, they're in the 100's (we're 4th). They fired their coach. The new coach is putting in a new offense and a new defense. I understood why the Ball State game was close in 2017 (I even predicted a loss that day). I hated that the Kent State game was so close but fine - injuries, five suspended players, new QB in a brand new offensive scheme, fine, there were some kinks to work out. I don't believe there's any such excuse tomorrow. Tomorrow needs to be a drubbing.

OK, fine, "drubbing" might be a bit much. Tomorrow needs to be a comfortable win. We had one of those comfortable wins in 2016 (over Murray State) and 2015 (over Kent State) but that's about it the last half-dozen years. 2013? Squeaker over Southern Illinois. 2014? Squeaker over Youngstown State. 2017? Squeaker over Ball State. 2018? Squeaker over Kent State.

Tomorrow cannot be a squeaker. If tomorrow is a squeaker, I'll already be hovering over the delete button of my 7-5 prediction because it will move to a 9% chance that it happens. A new coach with a new team who is changing the schemes and overhauling the roster should come to Champaign to face a Year Four team and get destroyed. We need to exert our will tomorrow.

And I think we will. Maybe not 52-3 like 2016, but something that says "we're capable of putting a team away early and coasting to a comfortable victory". This is a bad opponent, and we're at home, and we have 18 returning starters, and this is year four, and a team like Illinois should easily handle a team like Akron.

So that's what I'm going to predict. A solid victory with lots of coasting in the second half. A Year Four team that looks like it's ready to have a Year Four season.

Illinois 47, Akron 17


MJC73 on August 30 @ 11:39 PM CDT

You are nuts, but I’d love to see it - both tomorrow and for all of 2019.

uilaw71 on August 30 @ 11:49 PM CDT

We’re all nuts for being on this bus, but the 7-5 I predicted moments before Robert’s finished product posted includes a win over Harbaugh. And that could very well be Michigan’s only loss in the regular season. Which means that if we win one of Wisky or Iowa, we’re looking at 8-4.

LongLiveTheChief98 on August 30 @ 11:58 PM CDT

For several months now, this upcoming season has felt different to me. And no matter how many times I’ve vacillated on it, I keep coming back to 7-5, too. Glad I’m not the only crazy one feeling that way.


The Olaf Rules on August 31 @ 01:22 AM CDT

Really think you’re wrong. Really hope you’re right.

DB50 on August 31 @ 03:24 AM CDT

I agree with Robert 100% for a couple of reasons. First, experience, we have 18 returning starters, some with 2 years under their belt. Second, we have a junior transfer QB who is cool & steely eyed under fire. BP will be the MVP at season’s end. Third, we’ve had a transfusion of key players hungry for a second chance to prove themselves. Last, even though it’s never mentioned, you’ll have a team with a 97 decal on their helmets tomorrow. They realize how precious life is & not to take one second for granted!

illlinizeeman on August 31 @ 05:52 AM CDT

I think it depends on 3rd down conversions. Teams from 2015-2018 could not make 3rd down conversions to save their lives (missing Dudek). Last year's blowouts were as much due the offensive ineptitude as the defense. Stay healthy and this has a good chance of happening. I think we beat a bad Akron team soundly, but to be a fan of UI football is to always have a trauma therapist on speed dial.

ATOillini on August 31 @ 07:39 AM CDT

“The Proper State of Mind”.....I can. I will. I must.

illiniranger on August 31 @ 07:44 AM CDT

5-7 is about who I think they are, 6-6 with a little good luck, think they’ll need to catch a lot of breaks to go 7-5. PU, MN, NEB, all got better too.

I don’t think it’s crazy to predict 7-5, but they’ll need bounces. Team, program, and coach all need to figure out how to win together, think they’re a year away.

WeatherfordForMVP on August 31 @ 08:41 AM CDT

I’m with you. 7-6 is my prediction. 6-6 regular season, win a bowl game against a decent non-P5 team. I see 3-0 in non-con, and a win against Rutgers as a given. Then two wins of the four against Nebraska, Purdue, Minnesota, and Northwestern. I just don’t see winning three of those, or any of the other games that the Illini will be significant underdogs in.

But 7-6 would be a successful season! Go Illini!

wizardofoz on August 31 @ 09:58 AM CDT

If the Illini are to reach 7-5 this year it will be because the Turnover Fairy has waved a magic wand over Littyville. I'm all for it. You go, Fairy.

orngblu on August 31 @ 10:00 AM CDT

Great work on the whole 2019 Illini football preseason Robert. Seems like you've been very close on your season predictions the last few years. What is your overall record for prediction vs actual, since 2009? It would be great to see Lovie succeed here. He seems like a great guy, and has been a fine representative of the university. I like how he holds his men accountable, even if it costs some wins.

Nashvegas Illini on August 31 @ 02:19 PM CDT

Robert, pretty close on the Akron score...

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