I remember my first Illini Homecoming. It was 1997. Current superstar activist and author Dorian Warren was Homecoming King. The Illini lost. That’s not surprising, since that year the team went 0-12. It’s widely considered the worst season in the history of Illini football. Yet somehow, we remember the Ron Turner era as…not too bad.
So why am I going through this cathartic stroll down memory lane? Because on the 25th anniversary of my first Illini Homecoming, this year’s iteration means so much more.
It means a showdown with the boat-rowing coach born and raised in the Land of Lincoln. It means the first ranked Illini team in a decade should have the chance to play before a rabid crowd of students, alums, and community members who are hungry for a triumphant romp.
We have seen the Alma Mater have her pristine face bloodied and battered by Big Ten rivals for a generation now. We jokingly quipped about how we’re a basketball school and how we’re just waiting for hoops season. While the waiting has been the hardest part, the time is upon us.
Again, this is no ordinary Homecoming Weekend. This one features a Ludacris concert.
So in order to figure out the formula for an Illini victory this weekend, I’ve decided to look to the words of the great Chambana native Chris Bridges himself.
The Ludacris Guide to Illini Homecoming
What’s your fantasy? No, no, get your minds out of the gutter. I mean, what’s your dream for this season? What’s your irrational optimism best-case scenario? Mine would be a berth in the Big Ten championship game. This week could go a long way toward making that dream into reality. With wins in hand over WIsconsin and Iowa, beating Minnesota leaves only Purdue as a threat to the western crown without a loss to Illinois. This game could be a stepping stone to the Illini’s first conference title game appearance in school history.
Give Tanner Morgan some Southern Hospitality. The Illini front has been stellar this season. Working in conjunction with a productive secondary, Terrance Jamison and Kevin Kane have breathed new life into the Illinois pass rush. In particular, I’d love Tanner Morgan to get intimately, personally acquainted with Florida native Gabe Jacas. The freshman manchild has spent significant time in opposing backfields in his true freshman year. The Illini will need him to continue to produce at a high level to disrupt Minnesota’s balanced offense.
In addition, massive Texan Calvin Avery has been a quiet star for the Illini this year. Though his position precludes him from racking up counting stats, he’s been a menace. He’s doing an excellent job creating pressure from the interior and pushing the pocket so Jacas, Seth Coleman, Johnny Newton, and Keith Randolph can “get home” on opposing quarterbacks. While containing superstar back Mohamed Ibrahim is no easy feat, Calvin Avery is the first and best line of defense against an explosive ground game.
We’ve got foes in different area codes As Illinois fans, we don’t often think of Minnesota as our primary rivals. We think of the purple-clad Journalism students in the 847, the Ferentz-led squad in the 319, and even the jump around-ing 608ers at Camp Randall. But is it time for us to consider the Gophers a rival? They do fit the criteria.
- A public face of the program that inspires vitriol in the fanbase (more on him later)
- Residence in the western division of the conference
- A strong recruiting sell for kids in the Chicagoland area that has resulted in several big recruiting Ls for the Illini
- More recent success than Illinois
- A similar style of play and nearly identical rushing and defensive statistics
A case can be made to add 612 to the list.
Move, Fleck, get out the way. Coach Fleck, you’re not the Big Ten West’s shiny new toy from the state of Illinois. You’re not the new coach who is outperforming expectations. You’re not the guy who can get almost anyone in the state of Illinois you desire on the recruiting trail anymore. Head Coach Bret BIelema is making the Illinois football program relevant again, and the battle for the western division may be decided this weekend in Champaign.
Yes, P.J. Fleck is a detestable supervillain with his catchphrases. But beating the Gophers has gotten tougher since he rowed his boat over from Kalamazoo. Last year’s victory in Minneapolis was a defensive roadkill against a ranked opponent. That was seen as an upset, but in year two under Coach Bielema, victory is becoming the expectation.
Let’s watch the Illini have a great Saturday.
And if that great Saturday results in an Illini victory, Act a fool.*
*Responsibly, of course. Don’t wind up in the police blotter.*