Happy Friday, Fighting Illini nation.
You haven’t heard from me in a while, but that doesn’t mean my head’s been free of Illinois football thoughts.
In fact, it’s been so full of them that my level of anxiety regarding this upcoming football season changes depending on the day. About a month ago, I wrote a fairly measured though appropriately jaded preview and a well-reasoned case for meaningful improvement over on SB Nation’s Big Ten hub Off Tackle Empire. My thoughts on the season are far from settled, though, so starting today I’ll try and track them with the Illini Football Anxiety Meter pictured below.
Today’s Reading: Frantic, Bewildered, Despair!
I was hoping the Anxiety Meter would debut under more auspicious circumstances, but I’m feeling very nervous about 2019 and beyond right now. The recent run on graduate transfers at the offensive skill positions means we’ll start multiple players at those positions who weren’t on the roster in spring ball, and no graduate transfer quarterback offers the upside of Isaiah Williams with the Rod Smith offense.
I know we’re looking for experience at starting quarterback, but I still anticipate Williams being of monumental importance to the offense, which is always a scary thing to ask of a true freshman. Whatever the case may be, the actions and words of our offensive coaching staff indicate that they have little to no confidence in either of the quarterbacks currently on the roster.
Quarterback is far from the only worry. Many hopes were pinned on Luke Ford winning his appeal to the NCAA, and the 2019 Illini can ill afford to have a talented receiving option in warmups every Saturday.
Quinton McCoy’s commitment is a lone bright spot in a bad run on recruiting; he’ll be sorely needed at defensive tackle if the defensive line continues to be the primary source of offensive line recruits. At one point, 2020 prospects Marcus Harper and Kevo Wesley were considered locks to play in the trenches in Champaign, with Harper even committing; now, neither appears to have any interest.
Tennessee swooped in and grabbed Javontez Spraggins from East St. Louis, another OL prospect from a school Lovie’s staff was seemingly building a rapport with. More worryingly, his teammate Antonio Johnson also committed to the Volunteers. The talented safety was high on my personal wishlist, not just for what he could do on the field, but for what it would mean to finally get another talented player out of East St Louis to suit up for the Illini. Early in the 2020 recruitment cycle, everything was coming up #Littyville; with that buzz dissipated, I have nothing but the results of last year to guide my future projections, and they’re hideous to look at.
Speaking of St. Louis, it’s nice that many of you are happy about the Blues winning the Stanley Cup, but as an Illini football diehard, this concerns me. The pro teams most supported by Illini fans (especially of the local/townie variety) are the Bears, Blackhawks, Cubs, White Sox, Bulls, Cardinals, Blues, Packers and Colts.
Well, Bulls fans are still karmically paying for the 90’s, Colts fans got 2006 after waiting only 22 years, Cardinals fans have rarely lacked for good news, White Sox fans got an 88-year drought broken in 2005 and the Packers have been wildly successful since the early 90’s. The Bears haven’t won the Super Bowl since 1985, but as far as their fans are concerned that was yesterday.
The Blackhawks ended a 49-year drought and added two more titles on top of that in the last nine years. Then the Cubs broke a legendary streak, and now the Blues break a streak as old as the team.
Now, all that’s left is Illinois.
Am I suggesting that the St. Louis Blues winning the Stanley Cup somehow manipulated sports karma in such a way as to push back the emergence of a winning Illini football program?
Yes, I think I am.
I told you, I’m really worked up about this season. Hopefully a favorable fortune cookie can change my mind some time in the next week.