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Monday Mourning for October 18, 2010

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After the Ohio State loss, I tried to make sense of this Illinois football team. Two weeks later, we’re right back where we started.

Wins: Southern Illinois (3-4), Northern Illinois (5-2), at Penn State (3-3).

Losses: Missouri (6-0), Ohio State (6-1), at Michigan State (7-0).

That’s a confusing resume. NIU has the best record of any victory, but they come from the MAC. Winning on the road within the conference is always good, but Penn State limped into their bye week at 3-3. The losses are even harder to explain. Close losses to undefeated Missouri and then-undefeated Ohio State, plus a closer-than-the-score-looks road loss to Michigan State.

Opponents’ combined record (wins): 11-9

Opponents’ combined record (losses): 19-1

Let me list a few things that I do know, and you may just have to trust me on some of these.

1. Illinois WILL play in a bowl game this season. At 3-3, we only need three more wins to qualify for a bowl game. We have home game against Indiana, Purdue, and Minnesota. I really don’t see any way Illinois falls to these opponents, although it could happen. Even if it does happen, there are road games against Northwestern, Michigan and Fresno State. The Northwestern game is at a neutral site, at Wrigley Field.

You’re going to have to trust me, but I think Illinois does no worse than 4-2 in these game, and probably 5-1. That will be 8-4, and a January 1 bowl game. January 1 is not a tough goal to reach, as the Big Ten has four bowls on that day: Dallas Football Classic (Cotton Bowl), Outback Bowl (Tampa), Capital One Bowl (Orlando), and Gator Bowl (Jacksonville). Obviously, the conference champion will play in the Rose Bowl, leaving the second through fifth place finishers to the January 1 bowls.

Here’s the wild scenario: If Ohio State and Michigan State get BCS invites, third through sixth will play on January 1, leaving the two other Big Ten bowls (Little Caesar’s Bowl in Detroit and Texas Bowl in Houston) for seventh and eighth. Currently, Illinois does occupy the eighth spot in the conference, tied with Michigan. Could the Big Ten be the first conference to get a 5-7 team into a bowl?

2. Vic Koenning deserves a big payraise. You don’t need to trust me on this one, as the evidence is everywhere. The Illini are allowing 18.5 points per game (ranked 24th nationally), 303 Total Yards per game (20), and 31.7 Rushing Yards per game (14). They are a little lower with Passing Yards per game (190, good for 35th), but anyone can see that the defense is much improved.

3. Nathan Scheelhaase has “it”. How do you define “it”? I’m not exactly sure. But the redshirt freshman from Kansas City, Mo. has “it”. It may not have shown in his three-interception performance against Michigan State, but “it” will be there in the future. And by the future, I mean this season. There have already been a few moments this season, but there will be more times when you just say “Wow” after watching something he does.

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