Bradley Leeb-US PRESSWIRE
With the homecoming game against Indiana looming this weekend, we're left asking ourselves some tough questions about Illinois football.
While it may be painful to admit, looking at the history of our two programs, there's no doubt Indiana has been a better basketball school than Illinois throughout history. Particularly after Bobby Knight took over the program in 1971.
Sure, after Knight got the boot in 2000, we had a wonderful decade in which Illinois was the better program and we got to see our Hoosier friends suffer during the later years of Mike Davis' tenure, and especially so under Kelvin Sampson.
These days, though, well, damn you, Tom Crean.
Still, throughout it all, there is one thing that we've been able to have on Indiana, and that's football. Neither of our schools could be considered a football school -- TRUE FACT: 99% of Indiana students aren't even aware the football program exists -- but at least at Illinois we've experienced success once in a while.
After all, we're the only school that can say we've been to two BCS bowl games and have had two 10-loss seasons in the BCS era. Suck on that, SEC.
Save for a year here and there, even at our worst the Illinois football program has been able to finish ahead of Indiana in the standings. But there's this feeling I just can't shake right now, after watching both Illinois and Indiana play football quite a bit in 2012. It's not a comforting feeling, either, and one that actually worries me quite a bit with our homecoming game against the Hoosiers coming on Saturday.
Are we still a better football program than Indiana?
I think it depends on how you look at the question. Obviously, right now, seeing what we've seen, there aren't a lot of reasons to be optimistic about Illinois football at the moment. I mean, the Illini have played seven games under Tim Beckman and there are already people calling for Beckman to be fired. It's idiotic to fire a coach so quickly -- especially at a school like Illinois, let's be honest with ourselves here -- but at the same time, I also understand the thought process behind it.
Forget the injuries and everything that's seemingly worked against the Illini this year. This is still a very talented team, but it's also a very talented team that doesn't seem to be getting a lot of great coaching at the moment. That being said, I'm never calling for a coach's head before his third season, no matter how bad it gets. Maybe in the second season if things only get worse.
I only mention Beckman's job security because it brings to mind similar things I heard last season about Indiana's Kevin Wilson.
Wilson's tenure at Indiana got off to a terrible start, as he had a very hard time filling out his coaching staff as well as implementing his offense. He even got into it with local radio hosts before the season started. As a result the Hoosiers went 1-11 last season, their only win coming against FCS South Carolina State.
If anybody in Bloomington gave a shit about football you'd have heard calls for Wilson's head. Or at least, you'd have heard a lot more.
However, this season, with a full year under his belt, there is improvement in the Indiana football program. No, the Hoosiers have not yet won a Big Ten game, but have you seem them play the last three weeks?
Indiana has played both Michigan State and Ohio State in Bloomington in its last two Big Ten games and lost both those games by 7 points combined. Indiana even led Michigan State 27-14 at halftime.
The week before Michigan State the Hoosiers went on the road and lost to Northwestern by 15, though a Northwestern touchdown with 5 minutes left made that game look a lot more comfortable for the Wildcats than it actually was.
(Yes, Indiana lost on the road to Navy last week, but I'm not going to make fun of it for that because I'm not exactly confident Illinois wins that game either.)
Mind you, Indiana has done all this after losing quarterback Tre Roberson during its second game of the season.
Statistically the Hoosiers are standing out too. They're third in the Big Ten in scoring (34.7 points per game), second in yards per game (465), fourth in yards per play (5.93) and have the least turnovers (4) of any team in the conference.
Illinois, on the other hand, ranks 12th -- known as DEAD LAST -- in each one of those categories.
Now, defensively Indiana can use some work, but although Illinois has been a better defensive team, I'm not sure the difference is great enough to truly matter.
I mean, it's not like the Illini haven't allowed an average of 40.75 points per game in its last four.
So looking at those numbers it's pretty obvious that, right now, Indiana, if not a better football team than Illinois, isn't noticeably worse either. Indiana is a football team that could very well come into Memorial Stadium on Saturday and pick up its first Big Ten win since 2010 while spoiling our homecoming.
If that does happen, I only expect the cries for Beckman's head to grow louder.