About half of the games this season are ‘winnable’, and another half could be competitive, but with the Illini considered as serious underdogs. Unfortunately, the battle for the HAT falls under the latter.
The Wildcats are coming off a 10-3 season bolstering the longest win streak in any Power Five conference and a dramatic Music City Bowl win against Kentucky. Meanwhile, the Illini are on their streak... the second-longest losing streak in the Power Five. Northwestern is also winners of three straight Land of Lincoln trophies with the last two contests not being all that close.
And although Pat Fitzgerald lost Justin Jackson and much of his starting secondary, the Wildcats return starting quarterback Clayton Thorson, who will be looking to bounce back from a knee injury, and most of their starting front seven, including Joe Gaziano and Paddy Fisher.
On the other hand, Illinois has just eight seniors on this year’s roster and experience will continue to be the issue for Lovie’s team. The best part about freshmen? They become sophomores. That’s been the story with the fresh-faced program, but when does the bright, young talent start to translate to W’s and not L’s? Probably not for another season.
A win would be an upset and it would be glorious, but more realistically, make it close. Back-to-back years of getting thrashed by 30+ is unacceptable by Illinois standards, especially to the little in-state brother.
Hopefully by this point in the season we have a glimpse of what the future of Illinois football is heading: Mike Epstein is looking to cap off a 1,000-yard season, the same quarterback has started the past few weeks, and the defensive line and secondary have held their own.
If that’s the outlook for this season’s last game, then those are good signs for the future of the program.
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