Illinois (2-1) will open Big Ten play tomorrow night at 7 pm in Champaign where they will play host to the Nebraska Cornhuskers (2-2). Several staff members from SB Nation’s Nebraska blog Corn Nation were kind enough to answer some of our questions about the Huskers.
And before we begin, we at The Champaign Room would like to send our condolences to the Corn Nation staff and readers. They lost long time writer Brian Towle this week. Brain helped to make Corn Nation one of the best sites on SB Nation and will be missed. You can donate to help his family pay for his funeral cost here.
1. Illinois and Nebraska have played each other in the first Big Ten game since 2013, for some reason, but that's ending next year. Kinda sad I guess?
Joe C. - No. I don’t think either fan base gets too worked up over this one.
Mike: No; in fact, I’m not sure I even noticed that it was that way.
Keith: Nebraska played Buttgers in the first Big Ten game this year.
COBBY: YEA. IT WAS A FUN RELATIONSHIP WHILE IT LASTED, BUT IF YOU PLAY WITH EACH OTHER TOO LONG, YOU’ll START TO GET CRAZY COMMITMENT THOUGHTS. DON’T WORRY, WE DUMPED YOU THIS YEAR FOR A ONE-NIGHT-STAND WITH RUTGERS. SHE WAS PRETTY EASY. MAYBE WE WILL PICK YOU FIRST SOMETIME DOWN THE ROAD. HOW ABOUT IN TWO MORE YEARS?
Andy: We’ve been doing that? Seriously? I’ve gotta be honest - bringing that up sorta makes me wonder if Illinois is that chick you say hi to at the bar every Tuesday...and when you miss a Tuesday, she shows up on your front doorstep in a wedding dress, shrieking, “WHERE WERE YOU?? I WAITED FOR HOURS!!”
But yeah. The answer’s no.
2. Nebraska fired AD Shawn Eichorst and hired Husker legend Dave Rimington. What comes next for Nebraska?
Joe C. - For sure: Search firm, highly paid AD. After that? Up in the air. I see your next question so I won’t spoil it here
COBBY: WELL, I’VE NEVER USED THIS EICHORST BLADE YOU SPEAK OF, BUT I GUESS I’LL GOOGLE IT TO READ SOME REVIEWS. I HAVE USED THE LEGENDARY REMINGTON BLADE QUITE OFTEN, THOUGH. IT CLEANS UP THE TASSELS ON MY COB WELL. I HAVE NO PLANS ON USING SOMETHING ELSE, BUT I SUPPOSE THAT IF THAT CHANGED, GILLETTE MIGHT BE WHAT COMES NEXT.
Jill: I’m gonna take you back to the 90’s. I believe that is what all Husker fans are expected to do. After a glorious run of National Championships, the legendary coach retired and his successor only won 9 games a year. So he got fired. The successor’s successor posted a losing season while not giving the ball to his fullbacks and using too many forward passes, so he got fired. Then they hired a guy that only won 9 games a year and was a jerk, so he got fired. Then they hired Mike Riley who posted a losing season while trying to make his run-first QB into a passer, then won 9 games a season later and appears to have checked at least two of the “ways to get fired at Nebraska” boxes. He may come up with a creative 3rd way this season; losing to a MAC team has never been done before in Lincoln. So, they will replace Mike Riley with....I’m not liking the trendline here.
Andy: Ah, Little E, we hardly knew ye..because you hid under your desk 98% of the time. But as for what’s next. A search for an AD that has a 60 day window but better not take more than 30, because following that comes a search for a head football coach. Yeah, yeah, I know Riley still has most of the season left, but 5-7 is looking like a pretty generous projection right now when we’re 2-2 with one of the losses and 2 tight victories against teams around 70-something or worse in the power rankings. The pressure is definitely on.
3. Is Mike Riley coaching for his job? And if so, what does he need to do to keep it?
Joe C.- Yes. And he can keep it with 9 wins this season. Maybe with 8 if we keep all of our recruits.
Mike - Actually, I think he could keep his job with seven wins, because that’ll show progress
COBBY: I THINK HE HAS TO WORK TO KEEP HIS JOB. THAT’S WHAT MY LAST BOSS SAID BEFORE I FILED FOR UNEMPLOYMENT, BUT WHATEVER. I TOOK MY SEVERANCE AND BET IT ALL ON MY 9 AND 4 IN THAT TEXAS HOLD EM TOURNEY. I FIGURED IF 9-4 WORKED SO WELL FOR THAT BO GUY, THAT IT WOULD WORK FOR ME. I DON’T THINK HE KEPT HIS JOB AFTER HIS 9 AND 4 EITHER.
Andy: He could probably keep it with 9 wins, but right now I have a better chance of rushing for a 1000 yards than this team has of winning 9 games. The offensive line is a swinging gate and is manned by a position coach who’s been getting QB’s killed since his Oregon St. days. There’s no solution coming there.
The defense has gotten it done the last two weeks against weak offenses, but we’ll see in a couple weeks how they fare against actual talent. Riley is 17-13 here losing 6 of his last 10 and does not enjoy the watered down schedule of his first two years this season. He’s a very nice guy, but this is his Husker swan song.
Jon: He’s screwed. He ain’t keeping his job. The only way he keeps his job is if the FBI probe into basketball reaches football and everyone knows, “Mike Riley wouldn’t do anything dirty like that”, and POOF!, he’s suddenly one of the most sought after coaches in the nation.
4. I'm not crazy to think that this team could actually rebound and challenge for the west am I?
Joe C. - No, If the offense can show the same improvement that the defense has since halftime of the Oregon game, we could win nine games.
COBBY: WELL, THEY CAN’T CHALLENGE FOR THE NORTHWEST BECAUSE THEY LOST TO OREGON. SPEAKING OF NORTHWESTERN, I THINK THAT YOU WOULD BE CRAZY TO THINK THAT THEY COULD BE A CHALLENGER. THEIR BASKETBALL TEAM FIGURED OUT HOW TO REBOUND AFTER LIKE 60 YEARS BUT THAT’S NOT A REAL STAT IN FOOTBALL. SINCE THEY ARE A SCHOOL IN THE CENTRAL PART OF THE U.S. AND SEEM TO HAVE DIFFICULTY KNOWING WHERE THE NORTHWEST ACTUALLY IS, I WOULD RECOMMEND THAT THEY JUST TRY TO WIN THE LEGENDS OR LEADERS.
Jill: Crazy like Cobby.
Serious answer - this coaching staff was awful early in 2015 but adjusted and got better as the season went along. In 2016, they were downright competent in putting their players strengths front and center and scheming around weaknesses as much as possible. I do have hope that they can salvage this season. Riley is known for winning a few he shouldn’t, so who knows. He’s going to have to be pretty convincing AND be stocking the cupboard with some top shelf talent to make sure his nice-guy personality sticks around in Lincoln.
Andy: You are out of your mind. I thought we spilled all the Koolaid.
Jon: They could if Tanner Lee stopped giving free points to the other teams. Plus have you see Wisconsin’s schedule?
Mike: Yes they could. Mike Riley always has at least one cough-up-a-hairball game each season; maybe that was Northern Illinois, and one unforseen upset, say Wisconsin? Finish 7-2 in conference, and head to Indy. Granted, we haven’t seen anything to suggest that’s possible, but we can always dream.
5. Who are the players for Illinois to look out for in this game?
Joe C. - Whoever is running the ball. That’s all I can say for sure. Luke Gifford too.
COBBY: WELL, I’M NOT SURE WHICH PLAYAS ILLINOIS SHOULD BE LOOKING OUT FOR. I SUPPOSE THE RECRUITS THAT THEY BRING IN FOR THEIR OFFICIAL VISIT WOULD BE A GOOD START. THEY MIGHT BE PLAYAS OR GREAT PEOPLE, BUT AS LONG AS THEY KNOW HOW TO PLAY FOOTBALL, THEY SHOULD BE AN IMPROVEMENT OVER WHAT THEY HAVE.
Jill: If the Illinois defensive backs aren’t watching Tanner Lee, then they haven’t been watching film. Sigh.
Also, what Joe said. We have some good backs who aren’t getting much help from their QB or offensive line right now. Another one to watch is Mick Stoltenburg who is the nose tackle in our new 3-4 defense. He has been a pleasant surprise and does a nice job holding down the middle.
Andy: The best tacklers on our offense. If you want a pick-6, you gotta be able stay away from these guys after Tanner puts it in your chest.
6. Prediction for the game.
Joe C. - Everyone has a good time and both teams leave with their heads held high. And no injuries. I can’t pick Husker scores because I am becoming irrationally superstitious in hopes of turning around our season. We should win. It shouldn’t be close, but it probably will be.
COBBY: PREDICTION, EH? WELL, I GUESS I’LL GO WITH THE NORTHWESTERN BASKETBALL TEAM HOOKING UP WITH LEGENDARY RUTGERS PLAYAS ON THIS FIRST WEEK OF CONFERENCE PLAY AFTER TRYING OUT THEIR NEW VENUS RAZORS. IF YOU THINK THAT’S CRAZY, I’LL HAVE TO TELL YOU THE STORY OF WHEN MY GOOD FRIEND BRIAN AND I WENT STREAKING AFTER A FEW DRINKS THE LAST TIME WE BEAT ILLINOIS. HE WAS MY BEST BEER DRINKING BUDDY AND HE WILL BE MISSED DEEPLY.
Jill: RIP Brian.
You realize we are a volleyball school and Nebraska and Illinois don’t play a match until October 21. But if you want me to predict that far out, I have to say that I think the Husker volleyballers are a bit complacent after curb-stomping Northwestern the night before. Nebraska gives up an early set before winning 3-1.
Andy: We turn it over a few times, the defense keeps what Illini coaches generously call an offense from taking too much advantage. Huskers run the ball 35 straight times after their 4th pick-6 in three games and grind out another 23-16 type win to go to 3-2 before the eye of the hurricane passes over us and the Buckeyes come to town. To quote Troy McClure (I think), “Ah sweet liquor eases the pain.”
Thanks again to Corn Nation for joining us this week.