It has been a very emotional week for Illini coach Bret Bielema, whose mother passed away a couple days ago. He almost did not make the trip to Ann Arbor, where his team were 22-point underdogs to #3, undefeated Michigan.
A time of great sorrow turned into a day of furious anger for Bielema, who lashed out at the officiating (but chose his words carefully as to try and avoid getting fined) conducted during the Illini’s last second 19-17 loss to the Wolverines.
Can’t say I blame him, given how questionable some of the calls that against his side were. Especially (and this happened the previous week as well) the pass interference call on elite cornerback and NFL prospect Devon Witherspoon.
“I’m extremely pissed off, just very angry, very upset,” Bielema said in his post game press conference.
“I think our kids did a lot to win the football game and continually got things to go against us. Very frustrating, and you gotta stand up for people that you believe in.”
“I believe in that locker room big time, and I know they’ll rise up to the challenge once again.”
And yes, he did mention the officials directly, but it’s obvious to infer what he means.
You know the stereotype about Illini fans, in both sports- they all believe the refs are out to get them, at all times.
And well, this was the kind of experience that gives feeds right into that paranoia and conspiracy theory.
While halftime sideline interviews will hopefully be abolished someday soon, as they are pointless, this one was actually pretty worthwhile as you heard Bielema blatantly lash out at the league officials.
Bret Bielema calls out Big Ten Referees on national television. pic.twitter.com/IWZvq58NiG
— Illinois Football Focus (@IlliniFB) November 19, 2022
Wow! There is no gray area there- it’s blatantly obvious who he is talking about.
Well, it’s easy to see the motivation here, of the Big Ten Conference. Of course, they want Michigan to stay undefeated for The Game next weekend against undefeated Ohio State.
They league wants to be able to hype that matchup and retain hopes of somehow getting not just one, but two teams into the College Football Playoff.
This isn’t tin foil hat, faking the moon landing kind of stuff, it’s rather clear cut. Remember the goofy quasi-season of 2020, when the league changed their own rules mid-season to make sure Ohio State qualified for the conference championship game?
They used COVID as an excuse, but absolutely anybody paying attention knew what was going on- they wanted their bell cow and meal ticket to go to the league title game, just so they could get another CFP berth.
It just sucks, and yes, I’m going to be very unprofessional and non-journalistic and say the word “sucks.”
It sucks for everybody not named Ohio State and Michigan right now. You’re either a blue blood, or you’re outside, pal.
Illinois absolutely deserved to win this game, but watching it, the entire time, there was always a feeling that Michigan was going to win this game.
“I think our guys came here to win,” Bielema added.
“It’s what we came here to do. I said last year at the end of the year, I didn’t come here to win five games. I’m very open about that. I didn’t come here to lose to Michigan; came here to beat Michigan.
“For us now, we got to flip this one, learn from the moments.”
Bielema and the Illini go for an eight-win season in the finale next weekend, in the Land of Lincoln trophy game at Northwestern. For the latest Illini bowl game projections go here.
Paul M. Banks is the owner/manager of The Bank (TheSportsBank.Net) and author of “Transatlantic Passage: How the English Premier League Redefined Soccer in America,” as well as “No, I Can’t Get You Free Tickets: Lessons Learned From a Life in the Sports Media Industry.”Follow paulmbanks