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Here we go again: Illini fans, brace for impact

Going down the only road we’ve ever known.

NCAA Football: Chattanooga at Illinois
Bret Bielema walks into October (3-1).
Ron Johnson-USA TODAY Sports

Bret Bielema’s Illini accomplish something that has not been done since 2011, finishing with a perfect record of (3-0) in non-conference play.

The fan-favorite label “trap game” against Chattanooga turned out to be nothing more than a Illini showcase on both sides of the ball. The final score of 31-0 provided a snapshot into comprehensive beatdown, as the Illini played another football game on a day other than Saturday.

Illinois fans know this game, and they know it all too well.

No, I’m not talking about the football contest played in Champaign last night. This game references emotional capital in the University of Illinois athletics department.

Especially in the last decade-plus, it has been a zero-sum game. I would list those atrocities, but I would rather not waste that space for this column.

After a (6-0) start in 2011, the Illini lost their last six games. Ron Zook was fired less than three months after having the program inside the Top 15 in the AP Poll. Illinois likely gets nowhere near the Top 15 in 2022.

Then again, maybe they do.

The roller coaster that is Fighting Illini fandom typically starts in late November, across the street in State Farm Center.

It looks like it will start a few months sooner in 2022.

Interestingly enough, and without hesitation, Illini fans across the country will rise in unison.

Put a quarter in the jukebox if your over 35, or a $5 bill in TouchTunes and skip the songs the other losers picked.

Here we go again, for the first time with Bret Bielema.

Here Bret Bielema goes to Wisconisn, the first time with Illinois.

“I am very proud of the things I accomplished there but none of those accomplishments are going to help us next Saturday. Nothing we did there on the field is going to carry forward,” Bielema said on Thursday. “The rest of our games are Big Ten conference opponents, starting off with three in a row in our division. It’s going to be a big month of football in front of us for this program.”

October will be the most important month in a decade.

The next month of football will be glorious. One way or another, the roller coaster will be a fun ride. October starts at Wisconsin and ends at Nebraska. Sandwiched in between those road trips are home contests against Iowa and Minnesota.

All four games are winnable. All four games are losable. Such is life as an Illinois fan.

Coulda. Shoulda. Woulda.

The Indiana loss feels like it happened months ago, but that open wound could end up costing Illinois a shot at the Big Ten West.

Respectability is a good stepping stone. How much respect this program will have when November starts will be the first true barometer of how much things have truly changed since Bielema has come to town.

Illinois fans are so battered, so beaten and so scarred that after a good start to the season and a few blowouts, insecurity becomes an unironic punchline.

Illini quarterback Tommy DeVito looked comfortable and cool running an intricate Illinois offense to near perfection. DeVito’s 329 passing yards, three touchdowns and 74.2% completion rate easily represent his best game at Illinois.

Chase Brown eclipsed the 100-yard mark for the fifth consecutive game, a new program record. Brown also passed Red Grange on the all-time rushing list at the university.

It is possible that Illinois could be favored on the road in Camp Randall. Much of that depends on how many points Ohio State scores on the Badgers.

Buckle in. We’re in for a wild ride.