Column: The games that count?

By John Gluskin

I can smell the pigskin it’s so close.

We’re almost a week away from the return of 12-hour workdays of watching non-stop pro football.

That means we only have one night left of the preseason. While I’m ecstatic for the regular season to finally arrive, I’m going to miss the preseason. Seriously.

I know there might be better ways of killing time than watching a third-string quarterback attack a third-string defense, but at the same time, it gives us a taste of what the season will bring.

The preseason is quite interesting. It means nothing and it means everything all at once.

Get The Daily Illini in your inbox!

  • Catch the latest on University of Illinois news, sports, and more. Delivered every weekday.
  • Stay up to date on all things Illini sports. Delivered every Monday.
This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy Policy and Terms of Service apply.
Thank you for subscribing!

Most of the time, starters don’t even play the entire first half. Superstars play even less. All that ultimately matters is that these impact players make it off the field without tearing an ACL or breaking a bone. If a team’s 22 starters leave the game healthy, it’s a victory.

Because of the lack of playing time the first-team gets, you never really can draw any conclusions from a team’s preseason schedule – or can you?

This is the beauty of preseason football. There are new storylines and plots arising from every game. There are new players making names for themselves. There are old veterans who look like they should have retired.

The preseason has given us so many questions that the regular season will need to answer.

Should Colts fans be throwing in the towel after starting off 0-4?

Is Vikings’ quarterback Daunte Culpepper set for a record-breaking season, completing 85 percent of his passes and owning a quarterback rating of 128.9 during the preseason?

Is Chiefs stud running back Priest Holmes’ job in jeopardy after backup Larry Johnson has averaged 9 yards a carry, including a 97-yard touchdown run?

Will the Bears win the NFC North after shutting down opponents and playing impressively throughout the preseason?

Will the 49ers continue their hot play and shock the world, going from worst to first?

Will the Raiders and their high-powered offense be a bust all season long?

What about the yearlong soap opera that is the Philadelphia Eagles?

Are they going to show up like they did last Friday, scoring 27 points in the first half, highlighted by TO’s 64-yard touchdown on the first play from scrimmage? Or will the team that gave up 27 points in the first half last night come to play?

How long will TO last before he has another meltdown and starts doing half-naked crunches on his driveway?

Did Bronco’s tailback Mike Anderson lock up the starting job after rushing for 159 yards and 2 touchdowns, including a 93-yard scamper on Saturday? Or will star running back producer Mike Shanahan opt for Tatum Bell? Or Quentin Griffin? Or a random guy he pulls off the street?

Is Ricky Williams fully back from his tree-smoking hiatus and ready to produce for the Dolphins like he’s done at times during the preseason?

Are expectations for the Lions just too big to overcome? They have an offense full of talent, but can Joey Harrington do anything with all these weapons? They are currently winless.

Are expectations for the new-look Cardinals too low? They’ve looked sharp in their three preseason victories.

Are the Browns really as good as their record shows? This is the one question I’ll take a stab at answering, by saying it’s important to remember that Trent Dilfer is their quarterback.

But other than that question, I have no answers. You probably don’t either. Nor does ESPN’s football guru John Clayton. But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t take a guess.

Tonight, when you’re looking for something to do, watch preseason football. Go online and check the stats of your favorite players. Keep your fingers crossed that none of your star fantasy players go down with a freak injury.

It is actually a lot of fun.

Come Thursday, when the defending champion Patriots host the Raiders and life becomes complete again, the endless list of questions will start to be unraveled.

But I almost forgot, there’s one more question we’ll have to wait until next Sunday to get an answer to.

Kyle Orton looked like Peyton Manning this preseason. When the games count, will he look like Manning – or will he look like Ryan Leaf?

There’s nothing quite like the NFL.

Jon Gluskin is a senior in communications. He can be reached at [email protected].