Here Goes Nothing

Aug 5, 2020

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The Pac-12 updated their schedule a few weeks ago and put their opening weekend as September 26th. There were reports that other conferences were considering the same. At the time, with the non-conference games canceled, the first game on the Illinois schedule was October 3rd against Rutgers.

So I reformatted my season countdown (The 90 Illini). If it happens at all, we likely won't start until September 19th or 26th (and if we have a first-week bye week, October 3rd). Let's count down to the Pac-12's start date: September 26th. I mean, it's August and they don't even know when practice will start back up. It's going to be at least September 26th.

Illini open the season Thursday, September 3rd at home against Ohio State.

So yeah, my countdown, currently on #56, needs to be at 1 on SEPTEMBER 3RD. For a season that might not even happen! And practices start tomorrow! How am I supposed to process all of this?

A list.

1. This Was Intentional

As you may know, I still hold a grudge against the Big Ten for never following through with their announced "balanced" scheduling. Jim Delany himself said that they'd be looking at the crossover opponents every few years, adjusting it so that Illinois (or a similar bottom-of-the-heap team) would play Maryland and Ohio State would play Wisconsin. It was announced, and then it never happened. I think the reasoning was that when the Legends/Leaders went away and East/West were implemented they didn't need to "balance" as much, but still, I thought we'd finally see Illinois not fed to the wolves but here we're fed to the wolves again. I'll link my tweet:

That has to be intentional. It works out too well. They could add a tenth game, and everyone lost their preseason games, and so they did this:

  • Ohio State, Penn State, and Michigan get the three teams predicted to finish at the bottom of the West.
  • Wisconsin, Iowa, and Nebraska get the three teams predicted to finish at the bottom of the East.
  • Last season's upstarts (Minnesota and Indiana) play each other.

Easy peasy. May the best teams (always) win.

2. I Don't Care - Bring 'Em On

I'm contractually obligated to put these words in this post three times or else the comments will all be WHO CARES THERE WON'T EVEN BE A SEASON. If there's a season, I feel like a difficult schedule gives us a better read on where this whole thing stands than an easy schedule. For the past six months, I've had one stat I've quoted more than any other: Illinois doesn't play a bowl team until October 24th. The first six games were all against teams with either a losing record last year ~or~ FCS Illinois State. If everything is rolling right, it's 5-1 headed into Minnesota (and Minnesota lost a ton).

Now? Ohio State to open the season. Then at Nebraska and at Indiana. 5-1 start? {Emoji indicating that I am laughing out loud.}

I always forget that I should sometimes include the "news" part of this (I just assume people read the "news" part and then come over here to get an opinion on that news), but if you haven't seen it, here's the new schedule:

9/3 (Thu) - Ohio State
9/12 - at Nebraska
9/19 - at Indiana
9/26 - Purdue
10/3 - Bye Week
10/10 - Iowa
10/17 - at Northwestern
10/24 - at Wisconsin
10/31 - Minnesota
11/7 - at Rutgers
11/14 - Bye Week II
11/21 - Penn State

Illinois State - UConn - Bowling Green - Rutgers - Nebraska - Purdue?

Ohio State - Nebraska - Indiana - Purdue - Iowa - Northwestern.

But I say bring it on. This is year five. There are 25 seniors. 14th on Phil Steele's experience chart, 12th on Bill Connelly's returning production chart, 4th-most experienced offensive line - if it's being built correctly, this won't be an overwhelming schedule. It will be the schedule where Lovie proves it's being built correctly.

I'm still mourning, of course. My first "hey guys have you seen how easy this 2020 schedule will be?" article was in September of 2017. That was finally going to be Illinois football starting 7-1 and earning a Gameday visit. Taking away the three scheduled wins and then adding Penn State was as cruel as they could be. But we're here now, and I just want to see football, so bring on Ohio State.

3. No Media At Camp, No Problem

OK, actually, problem. For me at least. Not only is standing on the sidelines at Illini football practice my single favorite activity on earth, it's also where I fill out 90% of the big long IlliniBoard football preview in my head. Depth chart? We won't have any idea until the first game. How does the rebuilt defensive line look? Absolutely no clue. Are we sure there's not going to be a big dropoff with Corbin and Brown graduating. Look, man, I'd tell you if I knew, but all I can do at this point is guess.

I'll adjust, and I'll get over the disappointment, and I totally get it, but it's still going to make the ramp-up to the season so difficult for me. The very first thing I thought about when writing that "I'm moving to Champaign" post was "I can go to every minute of every open practice". There are people who count down the days to their golf trip to Bandon Dunes and there are people who count down the days to Dead & Company in concert and there are people who count down the days to camping in the mountains in the summer. I count down the days to Illini football training camp, now it suddenly starts tomorrow (what?), and my mom won't let me go.

Wait - that was supposed to the paragraph where I talked about how difficult writing will be without that info. And I wandered back into "BUT IT'S MY FAVORITE". I'll just say it this way. Mute my Twitter the first 10 minutes of the Ohio State game (if it happens). It will be a constant stream of "holy crap Deon Pate is starting on the DL wait is Dalevon Campbell the #3 wide receiver I thought for sure they'd redshirt Cooper Davis but he's already played in the second series wait Jakari Norwood gets the first carries hold on Verdis Brown beat out Jeresaty?" (and so on and so on and so on). Without camp, I have nothing. And I mean that both informationally and emotionally.

4. What Does Lovie Need To Do?

This is the question on everyone's mind. In a normal year it would absolutely be an extend-or-fire season, but with Covid uncertainties (will we even have a season? If we don't, will schools have any money to pay any coaches?), I'm not sure how all of that will shake out. But this is still the team that Lovie has been building for five years - his first recruits are reaching their true senior or redshirt junior seasons - and the fanbase will need to see something. Where do we set the bar?

I might need to think about that a little more. I'll probably include a section on it in the preview. But at first glance, I'm not sure if anything changes from what I said earlier in the offseason: seems like five Big Ten wins should be the goal.

With the old schedule, given the three non-conference layups, 6-6 (3-6) was setting up for a 2011 situation (which was "back to back bowl games! At ILLINOIS!" on one side and "2-6 in the conference in Year Seven just isn't cutting it" on the other side). This is The Year To Prove What Can Be Built and only 3 Big Ten wins would be a big disappointment. 7-5 (4-5) would even be difficult. Yes, we haven't won seven regular season games since 2007, so it's absolutely progress, but with the schedule (no bowl opponents until October 24th), it felt like 8-4 (5-4) would be the progress line we'd need to cross.

Now we don't have to worry about it. Non-conference games are gone, a tenth conference game was added (and we got paired with what's likely to be a top-10 Penn State team), so just chalk that up as a loss and focus back on the original nine games. I was settling in on "it kind of has to be 5-4, right?", so that easily shifts to "it kind of has to be 5-5, right?". 4-6 is tricky - 4-6 would have been 7-5, and I'm not sure if you heard but we haven't won 7 regular season games since 2007 - but this is Year Five before it has to be rebuilt a second time (every coach has to rebuild after they build), and next year is likely 5-7 at best, so... I'll give you my final answer in the preview (TEASE) but right now put me down for "it kind of has to be 5-5, right?".

5. Not Ready For Prime Time Players

IF this happens, September 3rd will have more eyes on Champaign than any college football game.. ever? As of today, there's still this Oklahoma-Missouri State game scheduled for August 29th. But according to Oklahoma insiders, that's not happening:

Games are being moved around constantly, so who knows, but as of right now, IF THE SEASON HAPPENS, it all kicks off with Ohio State at Illinois on September 3rd (almost certainly on ESPN, right?). Which means that not only are college football eyeballs focused on Champaign, perhaps... international journalists are focused on Champaign as well?

I tweeted this earlier (I always say that because I feel like I'm repeating myself for people who read both), but IF this game happens and IF the State of Illinois is still allowing crowds at 20% capacity and IF the school chooses to go ahead with 12,000 fans attending the game, it's probably an international story. That Friday morning in London the BBC will have a story on a University in the United States which held a sporting event with fans. Not only is "85 guys can play a football game and we're good with that health-wise?" a story, having socially distanced fans is a story as well. As far as I know, so far, it's just been that NASCAR race which allowed 20,000 fans at a speedway with 160,000 seats. "Can social distancing work in massive stadiums? Last evening at the University of Illinois in the United States, a game of American football was played...".

Are we ready for that? It feels like I could ask that question so many ways.

  • Is Illinois ready to take on Ohio freaking State in the first game?
  • Are we sure that college football can be played without massive outbreaks?
  • Are we sure crowds can stay masked and socially distanced?
  • Do we really want to use Champaign, Illinois as the test case for all of this?

Sure, why not? Here goes nothing.


Chukwuwumba on August 5, 2020 @ 08:50 PM

Bring it on...I feel the same. Maybe because I long for football and feel games are long odds from playing as well. Team has been built up that this is the year! I’m probably overestimating capabilities like could OSU be upset??? With Top2 qb prospect and elite players at every position. Goals: Keep the game competitive, flashes on Off and Def. Hope to sneak one at the end, but really hope to avoid 72-0.

IBFan on August 5, 2020 @ 10:46 PM

I really hope they open practices to journalists soon. Would be so happy for you and all of us would benefit as well. Tough break on schedule this year. Ohio St will be ugly almost beyond measure. This is a practice game for them and of course it was intentional. This is not that Illinois team with Jake and Co. If you get to go, stay safe and get some info on those young OL. are a little behind on that roster countdown thing you do:)

SactownIllini on August 6, 2020 @ 11:25 AM

I'm sure the staff will know it's you flying the drone over the field as they practice and not someone from a rival school.

Efremwinters84 on August 7, 2020 @ 05:10 PM

Just hoping we can avoid having 80% of the September 3rd crowd wearing scarlet and gray. In order to do my part, I'm entertaining the notion of a long car drive from South Carolina to claim a couple of those tickets.

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