Thursday last week, my girlfriend and I were out running errands and there was a local bar advertising Malört. I live in Seattle and it's not normal to see it stocked, let alone advertised, at bars in Seattle.
I told her that if Illinois wins on Saturday, I’ll take the short stroll to the bar down the street to take a shot of Malört. She reminded me that Illinois would only be beating Nebraska and if the Illini are actually as good as I say they are, the win should be expected.
This win shouldn't be special. This win is the norm.
Being from Wisconsin, she has first-hand experience with the team Bielema brings to the table. And honestly, that humbled my expectations, all the way till game time.
Illinois went down 9-6 and I wasn't pacing my living room as I would normally do. I knew that Ryan Walters’ defense would hold the line. I didn't care that Casey Thompson was torching the Illini secondary, the corrections would come. Big Time Tommy was 10 for 10 and passing for 100-and-something yards and Chase Heisman was on his way to another 100-yard outing. We were in good hands and Illinois was not going to lose this game.
I knew that Illinois was not going to lose this game, it’s not in their DNA.
That’s what I want all Illinois fans to do. Reset expectations. Winning is now normal.
And the crazy part? The way Illinois wins is sustainable.
BTT probably won’t return and Ryan Walters may take his talents to Boulder. It doesn't matter. Illinois has tape for a new QB in the portal and Bielema has a Rolodex of coordinators he can call. Over just two seasons, the philosophy of winning has become so ingrained in this program that going 8-4 is now, dare I say, the floor?! Illinois, if it all goes as planned, will be Wisconsin from 2006 - 2012.
But Illinois Ain’t Play Nobody
We're getting this response on all socials. I see it on random Reddit threads. It’s akin to the age-old saying made famous on the Paul Finebaum show, “Bama ain’t play nobody Pawwwwwwl”, except this time it’s directed toward Illinois.
Let’s look at the No. 1 team in FBS, the Georgia Bulldogs. Illinois played a better G5 school and possibly a similar-caliber FCS school. In the conference, both teams played two 3-5 teams, two 4-4 teams, and one 5-3 team. Saying that Illinois has only played shitty Big Ten teams would be saying the same thing as describing the Bulldogs’ season as lackluster because they played shitty SEC teams.
Now Georgia did beat the piss out of top-10 Oregon and is undefeated. This is partly why they are ranked No. 1 and Illinois is No. 14.
You don’t get to decide who you play, you play who is in front of you. Illinois' defense has been elite enough to win 7 games this season and the offense is running through Heisman contender Chase Brown.
Bad teams find ways to lose games, Illinois has beaten Wisconsin, Iowa, and Minnesota in the same year for the first time in 33 years. Illinois is a good team.
In national rankings, FPI puts Illinois at 24th, Strength of Record at 15th, and Average In-Game Win Probability at 6th. In AVGWP, only Alabama, Georgia, Tennessee, Ohio State, and Michigan are better. Illinois is dominating teams and controlling the line of scrimmage. Only those 5 teams are doing a better job than Illinois at controlling the game from start to finish.
Illinois' toughest schedule lies up ahead (6th in Remaining SOS). Most of that is coming from the game at the Big House, but if all goes well, the West should be wrapped up and Illinois will be playing with house money.
A CFP Top 10 matchup is definitely possible. Blake Corum and Chase Brown will be playing for the Doak Walker Award. Gameday will probably be in attendance in Ann Arbor (The only other games possible would be USC @ UCLA and Bedlam).
That's crazy to even talk about. But it’s the reality of the situation.
After the Wisconsin game, I said 6-6 is the expectation and 9-3 is the floor. We are past that.
As fans, this is all extra football. At this point, let's love the ride we are on and hope we shoot to the moon.
Last thought. Illinois has a 2% chance of winning out. Win out and Illinois heads to the CFP according to FiveThirtyEight.
Reset your expectations. This ride is fun.