It’s finally over. The long disastrous 2017 Football season is over for the Fighting Illini. Illinois dropped the final game of the season to Northwestern 42-7. Illinois finish the year with a 2-10 overall record and go winless (0-9) in conference play.
It was always going to be a tough season. The hiring of Bill Cubit in November of 2015 to only fire him months later turned out to be what the athletic program was trying to avoid. That terrible decision was a “dagger to the heart of the program”.
That phrase still makes me irrationally angry. That single cowardly decision set back the Illini football program years. That was the lowest moment in the history of Illinois Football.
Two years later, Illinois is still suffering from the dagger to the heart of the program. They’ve pulled the dagger out, but there’s still an open wound that needs attention.
In Lovie Smith’s second year he had a team that wasn’t able to fundamentally compete in the Big Ten. The team only had 9 seniors on the roster in 2017. His roster was left so barren that he had to turn to true freshman at every single posistion on the field this season.
This was an unprecedented young team.
Final true-freshmen starter records. pic.twitter.com/mRbGIM4AIL— Illini Stats & Notes (@IlliniStats) November 26, 2017
It was a total rebuild and we all knew that going in, but it was tough to see how bad this team actually was. The team had no discernible strengths on either side of the ball. The Illinois offense was one of the worst in recent college football memory for a power five team. This team was awful, plain and simple.
Now, there is still reason for hope going forward. And as AD Josh Whitman said previously:
One thing a lot of you guys know about me is that I'm a runner. I waddle around sometimes, but I like to exercise. I haven't run a lot of races, but I do occasionally in these big races. Before I'd ever done one, I never realized that the gun sounds, the clock starts, and if you start a race with 10,000 people, it may take you 2, 3, 4 minutes just to get to the start line.
I think sometimes people think that when you make a coaching change, the gun sounds, the clock starts. But what they fail to understand is that the clock starts in a different place. To carry that race analogy through, some programs start five seconds behind the start line, some start 30 seconds behind the start line, and other programs start three minutes behind the start line.
Our challenge the past two years has been getting back to the start line. We've had a lot of work to do, a lot of heavy lifting in terms of creating a culture, upgrading the roster, getting people in the right places. There was a lot in front of hurdles in front of us, and the last two years has really been about knocking down those hurdles and putting us in a place to run the race.
I feel very confident that we're getting to that place now. We can soon see the light at the end of the tunnel. The last thing we can do now is to stop running. We have to force ourselves to continue to be positive.
When we get to the finish line it will feel so much better because people were here from the beginning.
In the era of hyperbole, it’s impossible to describe how poorly talented the Illinois roster truly is and how much improvement is needed across the board. There’s a long way to go and this season puts us one year closer to competition. Be glad that one more year of the rebuild is over and focus on the future.
There is still a long way to go, but we all need to continue to believe that #WeWillWin. It’s likely going to be another long and bad season in 2018. I’m glad that the Illini have such a great fanbase to go through it with. I-L-L.