Following last week’s heartbreaking-yet-agonizingly unsurprising loss to Indiana last week, I, like many Illinois fans, did some soul searching.
Why do I watch?
Did they squander the only path to a bowl game just two games in – again?
Is the offense still prone to head scratching moments? And if so…
… why do I watch?
I mean, what superlatives are left? One of the most frustrating games in recent memory? I said I was more disappointed in Friday’s game than I have been in years; and I witnessed the horror of 63-0.
I did some soul searching, and I’m ready to say it. My reason to watch.
It’s okay to say it, too. Illini fans.
You won’t receive strange glances, or poorly-contained laughs (unless you’re surrounded by Buckeye fans? Maybe you’re an Ohio transplant, I’m not judging).
It won’t remedy the Hoosier sting, but it sure feels good to say.
Illinois Football has stars.
Kind of like a boulder lifted off a fandom’s shoulders. When is the last time Illini fans could confidently say their team has stars? Jake Hansen was close, but was more of a program star than a national star and missed enough games in enough noncompetitive seasons to keep his buzz at a low, consistent hum.
Teammate Josh Imatorbhebhe? He created more “star” plays than any Illini in recent memory, but bad QB play and lack of NFL callers suppressed any real talk of a college football star. Beyond the best offensive and defensive players of the Lovie era, who was the last Illini college football star? No, I’m not trying to start a game of “trivia questions to NOT ask in Murphy’s” but I am seriously asking. Mikel Leshoure in 2010? He had the stats (1,697 rushing yards, 20 total touchdowns) and NFL eyes gazing (drafted in the 2nd round).
To be a college football star, it helps to be a great NFL prospect. It connects a player to an entire new audience beyond their team’s fans and, if you’re good enough, fans of all 32 NFL franchises become a fan – at least until draft day.
Illinois football now has more than one – perhaps as many as three on the current roster. And one gives Mikel Leshore vibes.
Chase Brown has been doing his thing for quite awhile now, and he’s getting the attention to boot. The Big Ten Offensive player of the year started off with a bang, and national outlets are noticing.
“His 1,005 yards in 2021 weren’t a fluke, it was really an appetizer of what 2022 could ultimately see Brown become. A versatile back who showcased his ability to create both inside and outside the tackles on Saturday while displaying soft hands in the passing game, Brown has become a prospect to become familiar with as a potential mid-round addition as we look towards the 2023 NFL Draft.”
He’s even getting international recognition, garnering a spotlight from the Canadian Motherland in the Toronto Star.
Not surprisingly, Brown was named to the ‘23 Senior Bowl watch list last week. He was one of seven Canadians selected by officials with the U.S. college all-star game, which annually attracts many of the top prospects for the NFL draft.
Chase Brown is this weeks rushing leader through Saturday (199 yards Vs Indiana) - and he’s been showing everything an NFL running back should have through his first two games of the season. pic.twitter.com/LpqWdO5Dh1— John “Winter Soldier” Vogel (@DraftVogel) September 4, 2022
I realized why I still follow so closely, and why you should too. Relishing in the attention my team’s superstars receive is isn’t ideal, but it makes a season interesting. Call it the Shohei Ohtani effect. Angels fans must be beaten into an apathetic pulp by their team’s performance, yet a reason exists to watch every single day – witnessing Shohei Ohtani perform.
No, Chase Brown is not running for 150 yards while racking up 2.5 sacks as a edge rusher, but he still commands that superstar presence where you watch the game for him. The announcers key on him, the opposing teams key on him, and we, the fans key on him. How many yards will Chase put up today? Can the opposing team come close to containing him? What Illinois records can he set this season? All questions that keep me invested in this season, despite whatever outcome occurs. Of course the season can still be turned around! It’s been two games, Chicken Little!
Regardless, whether it’s 3-9 or 7-6 (we believe!), I will be following, oohing and aahing Chase Brown’s incredible performances, week after week.