We found out Illinois' entire 2014 football schedule on Thursday, and while the first thing that stands out in the schedule is how tough it is, it was also hard not to notice that Iowa was on the schedule. When the Hawkeyes come to Champaign in 2014 it will mark the first meeting between our two schools since a 27-24 Illinois victory in 2008.
It's strange that two schools from neighboring states that play in the same conference would go six seasons without playing one another, but it sounds like Mike Thomas may want to make up for lost time by scheduling as many Iowa opponents as possible. According to a story in the Des Moines Register Thomas looks at Iowa State as a possible opponent for the Illini in the future.
"That would be someone who would make a lot of sense for us," Illini athletic director Mike Thomas said Tuesday during the Big Ten's spring meetings, "but we're just kind of starting that process."
Thomas is among the Big Ten officials who are adapting to the league's renewed emphasis on strength of schedule - away from smaller FCS schools.
That makes it more likely Illinois will look to fill future dates with other teams from the so-called power conferences.
"I think when you're doing football scheduling, you're looking at marquee opponents and also geography," Thomas said. "You want something that's of interest to your fans."
I don't know that I'd say I have a lot of interest in a game or two against Iowa State, but I wouldn't be entirely against it, either. I mean, if we're only going to have three non-conference games in the future once the Big Ten goes to a nine-game conference schedule, and we can't schedule FCS opponents, I guess there are worse FBS opponents to schedule.
I'm not knocking Iowa State or anything because the Cyclones haven't been any worse than the Illini have in recent seasons. It's just I'd much prefer Thomas kept going the route we saw in his 2014 schedule. Games against Western Kentucky and Texas State may not be sexy, but damn it if they're not likely wins. And winning games and going to bowl games on a regular basis is how you start building a program.
Just ask Northwestern.
Also, to be honest, if the Illini adopt a scheduling strategy of playing one school from a power conference and a couple from the smaller conferences, I prefer that power conference team to be Missouri. It wouldn't be any easier of a matchup than Iowa State, but there's already a natural rivalry there. I'd prefer that to a game against Iowa State that won't really mean anything to us.