It's the question on everyone's mind, and it could now be the expectation for the season; Will the Fighting Illini make a bowl game?
They already have two wins, which at the beginning of the season I thought was the ceiling for the non-conference schedule. They still have a game to play against Miami of Ohio, which means the Illini could very well have three wins going into Big Ten play. That leaves the Illini in need of three Big Ten wins to reach a goal that I didn't think was possible.
It now is.
The Illini only need three wins, and they have multiple winnable games left in the Big Ten. The Illini's defense is poor, but so are the defenses of Purdue and Indiana. The Illini can easily outscore them with the Bill Cubit Effect in full force.
Given those two wins, that leaves only one win left to be found. Nebraska on the road, and Wisconsin, Ohio State and Northwestern at home seem are going to be extremely tough match-ups, but hey, any given Saturday right?
The Illini also have Michigan State at home and Penn State on the road. The Illini will be underdogs in both of these games, but they only need to win one. With the revamped offense, the Illini should be able to steal away one of these six games to get to a bowl game.
The Illini did really well against Cincinnati, a team that is better than some of the Big Ten teams on the schedule, but that game was early in the season. Big Ten teams will be better prepared for the Illini's offense than the Bearcats were. The Washington game also proves the Illini have huge holes in their defense. Big Ten offensive coordinators are ready to exploit those holes.
After the Miami of Ohio game, the Illini may be favored in only one more game -- on the road against Purdue. Odds makers don't know everything, but they do know quite a bit. The Illini won't be able to overcome the odds multiple times to make a bowl game.
I believe the Illini will finish with five wins, and come up just short of making a bowl game.
The only two games I feel confident saying I think the Illini should win at this point are Miami and Purdue. Miami is a MAC school that was 4-8 with a quarterback that was drafted in the NFL draft by the Broncos. The Illini should be able to win that game at home easily.
Purdue looks like a win, but it's still on the road, and that's always tough to overcome. Purdue is very bad in many areas, so I still think the Illini pull it off, but I'm not fully bought in.
That leaves two wins to be picked up, but I honestly don't know where we will get two.
Sure we have Indiana, but that's on the road. As much as Illini fans are saying, "But they don't have a defense", well, neither do we. This is going to be a shootout, and being at home may just be the key for the Hoosiers.
Michigan State at home? The offense isn't good, but that defense is stellar. It would be a tough game to win.
Ohio State? Nope.
Northwestern? (Sigh) Nope.
Penn State? Maybe, but again, road game y'all.
So for the Illini to make a bowl game, they will have to beat Miami, Purdue, Indiana and one other team. I think the Illini can upset Penn State or Michigan State, but I also think Purdue and Indiana can beat the Illini. At the end of the day, I think the Illini will end up with five wins, just short of a bowl game.
This team is on the right track, and there is a lot of hope for 2014 to make a bowl game. I just don't think it will be this season.
But there is a chance, and you can bet your ass I'll hold onto that chance. I'm an Illini football fan after all.