The Illini football season has been rather up and down so far, and now that we are launching into conference play, it’s time to put the past behind us. The Illini have suffered a couple of ugly losses, but now we can start anew as we welcome the first B1G Ten team to Memorial Stadium this year.
Obviously, Penn State had a much more difficult off season than Illinois. All we had to deal with was a new coach. As expected, Penn State had some trouble at the start of the football season. They’ve lost about 13 players so far (one of which – Ryan Nowicki – is actually now an Illini, but hasn’t played yet this season), but in the last few games they’ve come back together and won two in a row.
Penn State started off with a home loss against Ohio, and then on the road at Virginia. Since then, they’ve beaten Navy and Temple at home. Now Bill O’Brien has to pack the guys up and head back out on the road to Champaign. At the same time, Illinois needs to brush off the pain of giving up 52 points to Louisiana Tech last week.
Both teams have had a shaky start, but both teams have the potential to turn the season around. However, unlike Penn State, Illinois is actually allowed to play in the post-season.
On the plus side, the Illini defense will get a much-needed boost with the return of Supo Sanni and Steve Hull. This means for the first time all season the Illini will be playing with both starting safeties on the field. That’s not going to fix everything, but it will be a boost emotionally if nothing else.
Right now, Illinois is slightly favored to win, but they were also picked to beat Louisiana Tech. This weekend is a slightly different story, because Coach Tim Beckman is going to know a little bit more about what to expect. It’s also a nice way to ease into conference play.
Last year, Illinois barely lost at Beaver Stadium 10-7 when Derek Dimke uncharacteristically missed a last-second field goal attempt. Penn State got the win, which turned out to be the last win ever for head coach Joe Paterno.
Every time the football season begins, I start off with high hopes and anxious expectations. It’s a nice clean slate where anything can happen. Then, as the games begin reality sets in, and my bubble slowly starts to burst. Clearly this team isn’t as special as I would always like to see, a Bowl game is by no means out of the question.
Last week I gave the guys a pass and mentioned did say that the game against Louisiana Tech wasn’t a must-win situation. This week I’m changing my tune, because we need to start getting those wins that are actual possibilities. The season is only going to get harder as we get deeper into conference play, which means we can’t let a beatable (and beaten down) Penn State team slip past us at home. And, maybe being under a little pressure will go well for the Illini under Coach Beckman.
This week’s game marks the 20th meeting between the Fighting Illini and the Nittany Lions. PSU holds a 15-4 overall series advantage and a 7-3 edge in Champaign.
This is also the last game of the season that I will have to miss, as I will be lost in the Poconos with what sounds like zero cell phone reception. So either I’ll be dancing around with my phone add odd angles to see if I can get a bar, or I’ll be driving out to one right after the wedding ends.
The game will be air at 11AM Central on ESPN.