by Chris Johnson (@ChrisDJohnsonn)
The best way to approach rivalry games is with a blank slate, with no regard for the events that preceded them. When the hate runs deep, emotions enter the equation, and that’s where conventional team strategy or on-paper personnel advantages or any other conventional football wisdom used to assess games gets thrown out of whack. Empirical truths are less important than mental focus. Often times, the team that wins is not only the better-prepared team, but the one with a more focused mindset, the one able to block out the noise and focus on the task at hand. All of which is a way of saying that rivalry games are not normal games.
So when Illinois visits Ryan Field Saturday to battle Northwestern for rights to the Land of Lincoln Trophy, we very well could get a different outcome than what the records suggest. Illinois is, to be frank, an awful team. They’ve won two games this season, and zero conference games, despite having plenty of talent on both sides of the ball. Their dysfunction is somewhat mystifying, but it doesn’t appear to be anomalous or fluky. This team is downright dreadful.
But if there’s one game where the Illini could rise up and match their competition, it’s this game. First year coach Tim Beckman has emphasized the Northwestern rivalry since he took over, the most notable emblem being his slashed-out purple N plastered in the Illini locker room. To score a win in his first iteration of the Illini-NU rivalry game, Beckman will need his team to completely transform itself. If Illinois comes out playing the way it has all season, Northwestern will dominate. If Illinois suddenly acquires the will and means to play 60 minutes of winning football, and brings the attitude to match that gameplan, it has a chance. It’s really that simple.
So no, I don’t expect Illinois to hang around in this game. I envision a comfortable Northwestern victory. All I’m saying is that the possibility exists – however slight – that the Illini break out of their season-long swoon and challenge the Wildcats.
- - -
We hope this post finds you in good temperament as you proceed through whatever gameday routine accompanies these precious fall Saturdays. Hopefully our preview material has you ready for the upcoming matchup, but in case you missed anything, below we’ve compiled a last-minute study guide for any opponent queries that may yet stand unresolved. It never hurts to get some last-minute cramming in before watching your beloved Wildcats in game action. That said, read up, and enjoy the game!
I strongly recommend you skim CBS Eye on College Football Blogger Tom Fornelli’s brutally honest assessment of Illinois’ season and their chances of getting their first Big Ten win.
All the best Illinois reading from around the web is at your fingertips. Although I wouldn’t say “best” and Illinois belong in the same sentence this Fall. Whatever the case, we did our best to find “informative” coverage on the struggling Illini. Links!
We tried to shed some light on what’s gone wrong in Champaign this season. We’ve highlighted some key data points and players to watch out for in this week’s opponent breakdown.
It’s fairly obvious who “has the edge” in this game, but if you want a deeper look at each phase for both teams, pour over our weekly tripartite analysis – plus an interesting look into national statistical milestone Venric Mark is closing in on.