Illinois Loses to Minnesota



I suppose that headline really says it all, doesn’t it?

I mean…what more is there to say when a team that was 1-9, 0-6 in the Big Ten, and had lost to a 1-AA team, comes into your house and beats you.

Well, maybe there is one more thing to say:

We’re not going to a bowl game, folks.

By Paul Schmidt

I had to pinch myself after Eddie McGee threw the game-ending interception, to prove it all was actually happening. It was. There’s not much more that you can even say, other than, “That just happened.”

Usually, I’ll drop that in as a joke. It wasn’t funny today. I wish I could say that all the tweets I got after the result went final saying that this was the worst thing that could have happened today were understatements, but those tweets may be true. It feels like I just watched a funeral. And maybe I did…

The funeral of the Illini bowl hopes.

The most amazing thing about all of this is that, 8 days ago, Illinois was 5-3 and 3-2 in the conference and looked to be heading not only to a bowl game, but a New Year’s Day game at that.

Now, just 192 hours and 105 points later, it looks like that dream not only is dead, but a foolish one to have had, at that.

Northwestern rebounded quite well from their debacle in Happy Valley last week, and it looks as though the Cardiac Cats are headed in the right direction again. They’ll be fired up for next week’s Wrigley game, and then the Illini have a December date in Fresno, CA with 6-2 Fresno State. Losing both those games — completely plausible, if not likely — would leave the Illini 5-7 and without a bowl. Again.

Perhaps the most frustrating part of that scenario is that I had let myself start to believe in this team. I did. I shouldn’t have, but I did. I knew a couple weeks ago that if the Illini really wanted to find a new way to crush my soul, they’d get to five wins and then go on a long losing streak to end the season. I didn’t mean it as a prediction, just as a joke.  And yet, here we are.

I got caught up in everything that was happening and, yes, while this is an improvement over last season, I started to want so much more from this squad. But you know what? That was an unrealistic expectation.

This is still the Illini team that I picked to win only one game.  They overacheived for a while. Now they aren’t any more. And the chickens have come home to roost, my friends.

I suppose that if there is a silver lining to any of this, the bane of my existence, Ron Zook, is planted squarely back on the hot-seat. I’m not sure he could survive getting to 5-3, needing one win to get to a bowl, and then losing out. I think there’s just too much working against him for him to be able to keep his job if that happens.

For what it’s worth, Zook took the blame for the biggest reason why the Illini lost.

“To me, the biggest thing we did wrong was we didn’t go out there ready to play,” Zook said. “That’s my fault. I’m the head coach, and I’m supposed to have them out there and ready to play.”

He also shrugged off any talk of bowl games. No, seriously.

“Everybody wants to talk about a bowl game, but I don’t want to talk about a bowl game,” Zook said. “You don’t think I think about the Bowl Game? Of course I do, but I want to focus on this game. There’s nothing we can do about a bowl game until we get to six wins. We need to worry about us playing the way we’re capable of playing and that’s exactly what we’re not doing.”

I suppose that it’s good the team isn’t looking ahead, but to not be looking forward to a bowl game is madness. You’re 5-3! And as a head coach, it’s Ron Zook’s job to manage those feelings, not quash them completely, and it seems like that’s what he did, or is trying to do.

Zook has been saying for several seasons now that, “Oh, the team lost, I have to do a better job of getting them prepared.” He literally says it two or three times a season. So it’s not surprising to hear it again.

The part that is worrisome, however, is when Zook says that the team has to go back to performing how they are capable of performing.

That thought leaves one important question in mind, though.

What if this is how this team is capable of playing? What if everything that happened before last Saturday was a mirage, or spectacular over-acheivement?

The answer? I guess I’m not totally sure, other than to say that it would get Ron Zook off of our sidelines, and that maybe we should just be content with our five wins and call it a season.

Than why am I sick to my stomach about what just happened

ick to my stomach about where we are?

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