The Illini finally get on FOX
When the Illini square off against Cal in the Redbox Bowl on Monday afternoon, they will have a national TV audience to themselves. In fact, this will be the Illini’s first appearance on FOX since the new deal with the Big Ten commenced in 2017. Sadly, the Illini are the only Big Ten program to not appear on the Fox.
Now, this game is not part of the Big Ten’s game distribution on Fox, but it is important for the Illini to finally get a game on the mothership network.
So, America will be watching.
With that in mind, a win is essential.
A win will keep the good vibes going, but a loss could kill the momentum.
All in all, this has been a feel good season for the Illini. The feel good vibes were built off a four-game stretch from mid-October to early-November when the Illini beat Wisconsin, Purdue, Rutgers, and Michigan State. But the shine of the season wore off slightly during the combination of a competitive loss at Iowa and a dreadful home loss to one of the worst Northwestern teams of the last 30 years.
If the Illini lose to Cal, then the four-game stretch will be perceived as an aberration and the Illini enter the offseason on a three-game losing streak. However, a win will continue the perception that Lovie has the program headed in the right direction.
This perception is important for recruiting— where the Illini continue to rank near the bottom in the Big Ten (13th in 2019 and 14th in the current 2020 class after early signing day, per the 247 composite rankings). A win will show recruits that Lovie has righted the ship. A loss, however, will create the perception that not much has changed in Champaign.
Positive Media Hype
For a lot of programs this kind of attentions no big deal, but for the Illini, it is important that the media talk about them positively during the off-season.
Avoid Negative Headlines
If you want to undertake a fun experiment, google the names of schools that have lost bowl games this year. Regardless of the expectation going into the the bowl game or how much the team or fanbase cared about the bowl, the headlines following a bowl loss are never positive.
As an example, look at the headlines following BYU’s close Hawaii Bowl loss to a good Hawaii team:
A loss to Cal in the RedBox will certainty bring some negative headlines to the Illini and will cast doubt on the progress Lovie has made.
The good vibes from a bowl win and the subsequent offseason positivity from the media should equate to a renewed interest from Illini fans, who have seemingly lost interest (justifiably so) in Illini football during the Tim Beckman/Bill Cuppit era as well as the first three years of the Lovie Smith Era.
A loss, on the other hand, will temper enthusiasm from the fans.