One Year After Historic Upset, Illini Huge Underdogs to Wisconsin Again


Yesterday marked the one year anniversary of one of the greatest upsets in recent college football history. The unranked Illinois Fighting Illini entered as a 30.5 point underdog to the visiting #6 Wisconsin Badgers. You know how it ended- Illini placekicker and Irishman James McCourt booted the game winning field goal that made Illinois 24–23 victors in the waning seconds.

Their first conference victory of the season, the Illini (then 2-4, 0-3 in conference) were coming off a 4-game losing streak. It was, without question, the signature victory of the Lovie Smith era; it may have even saved his job.

Yesterday saw Smith met the media, via Zoom, to preview the game, and during his opening statement, he brought up how his side are three touchdown underdogs this weekend. Yes, indeed, the point spread is favoring the Badgers by 23.5 points a massive difference against the Fighting Illini per the opening lines of Sports Betting Dime. This time, the Illini are the road team, and the ESPN Football Power Index gives UW a 93.9% chance of winning the 6:30 central time (televised on BTN) kick-off in Madison. So once again, if Illinois beats the Badgers, it’ll be an upset that’s monumental to say the least.

“Whenever you come into a game and you start the football season off and you’re three-touchdown underdogs it gets you going a little bit too so we’ll be ready to go,” said Smith.

When asked by a reporter about the massive spread, and if sees that as a disrespect to his team, he replied:

“Until we become this consistent winner, this is a position we’ll be in quite a few times. It’s not all bad to be the underdog. When people don’t have a lot of confidence in what they think you can be but as I look at our football team, we made progress last year.

“We were a six-win team and I think we’re a stronger team now. We lost a few guys but for the most part, our best players are back and we’ve added quite a few players so we’re excited about seeing how exactly we fit into the landscape in 2020.”

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The Badgers had an undefeated record, which included an impressive victory over No. 11 Michigan, a year ago. But they left the field after watching Illini fans storm it. And with the extremely popular and very divey campus bar Kam’s closing its doors for the final time the next day, the victory was dubbed the “Kam’s Miracle!”

Don’t worry Kam’s though, all it was move location from where it had been since 1975, and their new digs led to much higher cover charges. The win also marked five years and one day since the school debuted the Red Grange themed “Gray Ghost” uniforms, and this was by far the best that Illinois has played while wearing them. The Illini went on to finish .500 and end a half-decade bowl game drought. Wisconsin went to the Rose Bowl.

Smith believes both teams are better this time around.

“Just knowing what we’re going through,” Smith continued.

“Not just right now, for four years. I see the matchup we were able to beat this football team last year. I feel like we’re a better football team right now. I know they’re [Wisconsin] better also, so I think it’s going to be a good match up. Again, it’ll be decided on the field but you just look at the new additions we’ve added to our program, and I think most of the new additions, they’re like advertised.”

“I think you can do an awful lot of talking about what you are and who you can be, and how good — all those things but it has to be confirmed. The only way for it to be confirmed is if you get a win against good people. We were able to get some big wins last year so yes, winning gives you confidence.”

“It works if we do it the right way. If we work hard, buy into it, have each other back, play hard and do all the things that we continue to preach. So yes, last year we took a step, but they don’t take that record over and we start over again.”

So will lightning strike twice? Can U of I do it again?

Prediction: Wisconsin 34, Illinois 17

It might be the biggest college football season ever for wagering, and in most places you look, the Illini typically have the longest Big Ten title odds of anybody. Most prosgnosticators are picking them to win only 3 or 4 games this season.

Paul M. Banks runs The Sports Bank, partnered with News NowBanks, the author of “No, I Can’t Get You Free Tickets: Lessons Learned From a Life in the Sports Media Industry,” has regularly appeared in WGNSports IllustratedChicago Tribune and SB NationFollow him on Twitter and Instagram.

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