SOC - UConn
Writing this one from my Hartford hotel room. Which, of course, makes me think of all the other non-conference road games the last 10 years. Which makes me so worried about tomorrow. I know I'm not supposed to be worried, but I've been sick to my stomach about this game all week and I don't see that changing any time soon. The source of my worry? Illinois football playing a non-conference game on the road.
Here's what I wrote last Saturday after the Akron game:
Next up, win the road game that we always lose. The last time we won the non-conference road game was... 2007? We won at Syracuse in 2007 but then we lost in St. Louis to Missouri in 2008, 2009, and 2010. We lost at Arizona State in 2012. Lost at Washington in 2014. Lost at North Carolina in 2015. Lost at South Florida in 2017. And now we head to UConn next week.
Yes, they're bad, but... I'm nervous.
Then the line comes out and it jumps from Illinois favored by 17 to Illinois favored by 22. In case you're confused, yes, that's the University of Illinois football team, playing on the road, favored by 22 points. I can't believe it either.
The reason, of course, is that UConn is bad. But 22 points bad? 22 points against the-turnovers-and-penalties-are-lurking Illinois? This is one of the more insane college betting lines I can recall.
My thoughts are all over the place so I'll make a list. With numbers. I'm concerned about tomorrow because...
- Illinois was 128th in yards allowed last season but returns 9 starters and should be much improved. UConn was 130th in yards allowed last season but returns 10 starters and should be much improved. If we're going to say "yeah, we were bad last year on defense, but we were young and now we should be better" about Illinois, you have to say the same thing about UConn.
- We're going to turn the ball over a decent amount this season. We just are. I don't think any of the quarterbacks I saw at camp were the "can limit interceptions to single digits this season" type. The first game where I expect a lot of turnovers? The first game on the road. If I was a Texas fan I would expect it to go this way.
- Mike Epstein is out for the season and Reggie Corbin left the last game with a hip pointer. I know that Corbin is basically "probable", but I've experienced one too many "Lovie was just smoke-screening - he's not dressed today" situations the last three years to at least not be a little concerned that Corbin might not play.
- I think UConn would beat Akron by 17. I know that UConn had the worst defense in football last year while Akron beat Big Ten West champion Northwestern, but this year, I think third-year-of-the-rebuild UConn beats first-year-of-the-rebuild Akron fairly easily. I'm guesing we look back in December and UConn is 4-8 while Akron is 1-11.
- We're Illinois football and we can't be trusted.
This is not me saying we're going to lose. There's a victory predicted below. I'm just saying that I don't feel the confidence that so many of you feel. I'm not chalking this up to "UConn is horrific - it will be over by the second quarter". I think UConn, like us, will be better in 2019, and I fear that we might catch one of their frisky games tomorrow.
I'm also worried about one of our "wait, college football is really hard" games. Six minutes in and we have four penalties, a turnover, and a dropped interception and you'll say "oh, right, THAT". When you go on the road - when any team goes on the road (hi Purdue, 'sup Missouri) - weird things happen and you have to fight through them.
There are some games tonight, right? I'll go randomly find an example.
OK, I didn't find any road examples, but Boise State, coming off their win over Florida State, beat Marshall 14-7. And Arizona State currently leads Sacramento State 9-0 at the end of the third quarter. Those fans walked into those games expecting absolute blowouts and then some college football happened.
I worry about some college football happening tomorrow. No, not a loss, but a nail-biter. I do think we go bowling and I think it starts to click this season, but that will come with some "scramble at the end to somehow pull it out" games, not a bunch of Akrons.
And this isn't a set-up. I'm not saying this so we can blow out UConn and I type up a "this was a trap game and we dominated so WE ARE GOOD". If it goes like Vegas expects it to go, it's because UConn is historically bad. I'm just telling you how I feel. That's the whole point behind these posts. Tap directly into my brain.
My brain, currently, is concerned. I feel like this one is much closer than it should be. BUT, in the end, I think we pull it out. Three quarters of nervousness and then a big play in the fourth puts it away.
Illinois 30, UConn 21