Stream Of Consciousness - Akron
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