So, how are we feeling?
Has the stench of Homecoming abated?
Have the memories of a seemingly overmatched Wisconsin squad storming back in the fourth quarter dissipated?
Much like players, fans have to develop short memories. Otherwise, the memories color the future unfairly.
So let’s take a calm, rational look at where we are now as a fan base and what we may have to look forward to.
I HATE EVERYTHING, EVERYWHERE, ALL THE TIME.
Well, I suppose the reasoned perspective is out the window.
This season has been the painful brand of reminder that Illinois fans are all too accustomed to.
The win in College Park put a bowl game squarely in the Illini’s sites. After tough losses against Penn State, Purdue and Nebraska, there were signs of life.
And immediately, said hope was snuffed out by Luke Fickell and Co. It was a receipt for the gut punch Illinois gave the Badgers at Camp Randall last year.
Common sense would stipulate that the season’s outcome hinges on a victory against the Gophers in Minneapolis after the bye week. With even more talent-bereft Northwestern and Indiana still on the docket, six wins seem entirely plausible.
But it’s hard to get to the “considering plausible options” phase when Keith Randolph, Reggie Love, Matthew Bailey and Josh McCray all have/will miss significant time. And after the Nebraska loss, it’s hard to see Minnesota as a layup. Especially after their upset of the Hawkeyes in Iowa City.
Illinois has had success against Minnesota in recent years. So perhaps the matchup will bode well for a team coming off a bye week.
But in a year where Minnesota beat Iowa, nothing’s certain.
Luke Altmyer could stabilize the position long-term.
The last time I said this, Luke went and threw all of the interceptions.
He has settled into the offense and become more confident. It also doesn’t hurt that he has shown an excellent ability to move the chains with his legs.
Coming into the season, he didn’t have a lot of tape. He was viewed as a high-upside enigma. Would he wind up being better than Hudson Card and Tanner Mordecai? Could he succeed where Brandon Peters underwhelmed?
Altmyer has played this season like a talented quarterback without a lot of reps. So the inconsistency can be justified. While I do believe Illinois should bring in a transfer QB to compete with him this spring, I don’t think quarterback is a major long-term concern. Especially if his Starkville successor Trey Petty’s Illinois commitment and early enrollment hold.
The Gabe Jacas sophomore slump may have a resolution.
I’m not alone in being impressed with the physicality and athleticism Gabe Jacas demonstrated as a true freshman. He was a great recruiting find by the staff. It seems like so long ago, but he was a flip from Tulane.
This year, Jacas hasn’t been able to get “home” as often and as impactfully. Perhaps it’s adjusting to a new position coach and coordinator. Or maybe it’s a year of film on him. Either way, his impact has been diminished.
With Keith Randolph missing time, the staff made a shrewd decision to move Jacas inside to the defensive line. He looked solid against a talented Wisconsin front.
If Jacas can truly become a force inside long-term, that would be a major impact position switch. It would enable Ezekiel Holmes, Seth Coleman, and Alec Bryant to remain the primary edge rotation this season.
The future at edge, with players like Jared Badie, Calvin Smith, and Mason Muragin, looks bright. And Josaiah Knight is one of Illinois’ top prospects in the class of 2024. So Jacas’ presence may be more significant on the defensive line after the departure of the Law Firm.
Tanner Arkin scored!
Hey, Tanner Arkin. Awesome job. Congratulations on making a major contribution to the Illini getting out to a lead against Wisconsin. I’m looking forward to seeing other ways you can be incorporated into the offense.
It’s recruiting season.
The staff is on the road visiting commits and hopefully getting some new potential talent in the pipeline. The JuCo recruiting efforts have been substantial for Bret Bielema’s staff, but results have been mixed at best. Will JuCo recruiting really put Illinois in a better position to compete with the Washingtons and USCs of the world? I doubt it. But landing prep talents like Kaden Feagin and Malik Elzy certainly will help.
The major recruiting matters involve re-recruiting the current roster and finally having real success under Bielema in the portal. Maybe this is where Jim Leonhard and Art Sitkowski can make an even deeper impact: advance scouting. Anticipating who may be in the portal in the next two months and figuring out how they could make a major impact could be the talent acquisition key to next season.