Why shouldn’t you be waiting?

By BobLa Gesse

Ron Turner came into Monday’s press conference with a look about him. You could see it in his eyes. He genuinely wanted to start the football season. Waiting the rest of the week probably wouldn’t suffice for him.

The “IlliniRowdies” should be feeling the same way. And not just because it can’t get any worse than last year. Everyone has a different opinion on how this year should go, and the thing is, any one of them – even the most outlandish – could come true.

“I am just anxious to see how we perform,” Turner said. “Especially some of our young guys. You never know until you get out there and play.”

More so this year than any other. The uncertainty is what makes this year so great. Illinois could do anything. They could end up in a bowl game or they could stumble through another season. Illinois returns most of the pieces of last year’s team, even the injured ones. With the talent on the roster, Illinois has more than one win in them. Picking how many wins, though, depends on what facts you like.

The bowl-bound believers see Illinois having a winning season and playing into December or January. They have a lot of ammo to use. This team has as much confidence as men’s basketball with a healthy Dee Brown. (Dee Brown would play basketball on his death bed. And I’m talking about a pick-up game.) The confidence oozes out of the Illini because they are giving the “Rocky V” treatment to last year, erasing it from memory and destroying any television showing it.

The believers have several Illini on their side to further their cause. Running back Marcus Mason is the first spokesman to help the group out, on the condition Sylvester Stallone be not present.

“I just know we are better than 1-11,” Mason said. “We had a lot of young players. Now we have a year under our belts.”

It’s the believers’ motto: Things can’t get any worse. If Mason doesn’t convince the opposition, Illini fans will have more to watch in January than just basketball. The believers hope their gunslinger, Jon Beutjer, will.

“To compare (this team) to the previous teams I’ve been on, the talent level is the same,” Beutjer said. “It’s what we do on the field. It’s what we do. How we fare and how our focus stays. We have the talent we just have to go do it.”

And that’s where the winless worriers can’t take it any more and chime in like the religious folk holding the mammoth signs on the Quad. The pessimistic IlliniRowdies don’t see Illinois winning more than five games and in most cases envision things much worse. Their sleepless nights are filled with thoughts of the defense repeating last year’s horror show. They don’t know how the offense will score the necessary 48 points to win games every week.

The worriers, well, worry that the Big Ten is too tough this year; even if the defense does come around, a grueling schedule will consume the Illini.

The last time Illinois was in a situation close to this, it won the Big Ten Championship in 2001. Illinois made a bowl appearance in 1999 but struggled through 2000 after losing to Michigan in a game that the Big Ten apologized for because its officials blew the game.

This time, will we find the Illini standing atop the Big Ten again? Probably not. Will we find out they are really only good for one win? Probably not.

There’s one thing we do know: The way the season ends up will shape the future of the Illinois program. A few more wins and the team’s confidence and play could surge it back to the upper echelon of the Big Ten in a few years. Too many losses and Illinois could be looking forward to battling Indiana as the worst team in conference for the foreseeable future.

Either way, the anxiety will disappear in two days.

But what will replace it?

Bobby La Gesse is a senior in communications. He can be reached at [email protected]