Fans, team shouldn’t be too confident at Wisconsin

By Kyle Betts

It was almost exactly one year ago on a rainy Saturday in Iowa City, Iowa, when the No. 18 Fighting Illini took the field against a struggling Hawkeyes team still looking for its first win in conference play. After upsetting ranked opponents in consecutive games, the Illini were confident. So confident in fact, they decided to unveil the most hideous, seizure-inducing orange pants to ever see the light of day. As embarrassing as they looked, the team was embarrassed even more by losing 10-6 in a game they should have easily won.

Now, the Fighting Zookers find themselves in a similar situation. After an impressive 42-point win over Indiana, the Illini will be traveling to Madison to take on a struggling Badgers team still looking for their first win in conference play.

Will the result be the same?

In last week’s Touchdown Times, I used this very space to tell you, among other things, that the Illini would lose their upcoming game against Wisconsin. Since I wrote that column, Illinois went on to stomp Indiana 55-13 and the Badgers were embarrassed by the Iowa 38-16.

Even though you’d think results like this would have me second-guessing my pick, I’m standing by my choice.

It’s not that I think the Badgers are a superior team; they are far from it. Even when Wisconsin was ranked as high No. 13 in the preseason polls, I thought the Illini were better all around.

The thing is, I’m learning my lesson. The same lesson this Illini team has yet to understand this year: Those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it.

So far, I haven’t seen a lot of learning going on.

Let’s look at the pattern of wins and losses this season: loss, win, win, loss, win, loss, win. Now, I realize Illinois did win two games in a row at one point (although you can hardly call a 3-point victory over Louisiana-Lafayette at home a win), but the general trend seems to be one win followed by one loss. If this pattern holds true, guess what’s coming up next?

We’re more than halfway through the season and the Illini have yet to put together quality wins in consecutive weeks. The keyword being “quality”.

To me, this signals a team that has trouble focusing. They are a young team mentally, and they play off of the emotions of the previous week. After a loss they play angry (like against Indiana) and after a win they play over-confident (like against Minnesota). This is a trend that started with all the preseason hype leading up to the game against Missouri.

I compare the mood at practice and around campus this week to the way it was after the Michigan game. The Illini went to Ann Arbor and absolutely crushed the Wolverines. They played solid football throughout the game and over the next week, they had some swagger. The feeling resonated through the fans and media too. Even I was riding high on Illinois. Then there was Homecoming. Yuck.

Now it’s deja vu all over again.

Spirits were high this week. The players seemed less tense at practice, the fans were talking about bowl games again and even the media was having a good time making their peanut butter and fluff sandwiches with a big, cold glass of Jason Ford. But will the result be the same? My guess is yes. Here’s why.

Like the week leading up to Minnesota, Zook has been using the phrase “trap game” fairly liberally around Memorial Stadium. He wants his team to know that even though they are playing in a game many expect them to win – a game they should win on paper – they can’t take anything for granted. Did anyone listen in the week before the Gophers came to town? No. Is anyone listening now? It doesn’t look like it.

In a way, it makes sense. Wisconsin has lost four games in a row (all in conference), they have benched their starting quarterback and battering ram running back P.J. Hill might be not played due to injury. Everything seems to be unfolding for a nice, easy Illini victory.

But that’s what bothers me so much about this. Everyone is too comfortable.

Even Joe the fan is too relaxed. This team has been taking you on a roller coaster ride throughout the whole season Joe. Why are you so confident? What evidence has this team given you to suggest they can go into Camp Randall and win this weekend? Until Ron the coach, Juice the quarterback and Brit the linebacker can lead this team to consecutive quality wins, then we should all be Joe the skeptic.

Hence, I’m not going to get overly excited like I did before the Iowa game last year or before the Minnesota game this year. I need to see some proof, because I am not going to repeat the same mistakes anymore.

But if they wear those orange pants again, then it doesn’t matter what I think. They’ll be screwed for sure.

Kyle Betts is a graduate student. He can be reached at [email protected]