As your Fighting Illini head into Lincoln and Week 9 of the 2022 college football season, take a minute to look at the Big Ten West standings.
Illinois is in sole possession of first place.
Don’t make a comment. Don’t send a tweet. Don’t post it on Instagram.
Just look at it. Ain’t she purty?
Now, look into the distance and think about all of the putrid football you’ve watched in your lifetime, especially in the last decade. Season after season and coach after coach of ineptitude on and off the field.
Tip #1: Don’t let the elites win.
You no doubt have friends that are fans of other B1G teams. Some of them may even like “the elites,” Ohio State or Michigan. Everyone in America knows an Alabama fan, by now.
The elites will try to take your joy, and suck the life out of you. They will belittle your success and use “yeah, but” and “but, if” statements to steal your euphoria.
As Bret Bielema and his team enjoyed their second bye week, nearly every outcome that could have benefited Illinois came to fruition. Purdue is pummeled by Wisconsin. Minnesota loses at Penn State. Teams ranked ahead of Illinois piled up the losses.
Illinois will be knocking on the door of the AP Top 10 by the middle of the afternoon today.
What in the hell is going on?
This is wholly unfamiliar territory for most of us.
Tip #2: Focus on the Big Ten West.
It’s the only thing that matters right now, anyway. Beat Nebraska this week, and Michigan State at home the following week. Illinois will be heavy favorites in both games.
The potential winner-take-all game with Purdue has lost it luster after what happened at Camp Randle in Week 8. But, I digress.
Nebraska has the worst defense in the Big Ten, and is one of the worst redzone defenses in the country. Purdue gained over 600 yards against the formerly vaunted black shirts.
One game at a time. Run the ball, stop the run and take care of it.
When, and if, Illinois football does those three things, they will find themselves in Indianapolis on Dec. 3 playing for the Big Ten crown.
Tip #3: Understand the momentum recruiting.
As the bye week came and went, Bielema and his staff picked up some commitments and predictions from positions of need.
Malik Elzy, four-star WR (Simeon) is the highest-ranked uncommitted wide receiver in the 2023 class. If you check any recruiting agency, every expert has picked Elzy to wind up with Bielema and OC Barry Lunney next fall. Elzy de-commited from Cincinnatti.
New Jersey defensive back Saboor Karriem (6-foot-3 and 180 pounds) chose Bielema and his DC Ryan Walters over at least a dozen other FBS programs, one of those being Michigan State.
Earlier in the week JuCo offensive lineman Dez’Mond Schuster (6-foot-5 and 311). Schuster has three seasons of eligibility remaining. O-line coach Bart Miller will love having this size and and athleticism at guard. That’s unreal size for the position. Schuster will likely need to lose 15 pounds to be agile enough to compete at his level.
Now, I’m not saying that any of these players will make Illinois instantly on the same level as the elite programs that we talked about earlier in this column. But, it’s a start.
Tip #4: Run your mouth to people that you shouldn’t.
It seems like the Illini are hell-bound on keeping their place atop the Big Ten West.
Michigan and Ohio State can kiss my ass.
It’s the Illini’s turn to strike.
Strike first. No mercy.