Ohio State loss will help Illinois move forward

Unranked Illinois has a chance to take down No. 3 Ohio State! How exciting! Ohio State is undefeated as of yet, duh, and Illinois is definitely going to be an underdog. Illinois has brighter days ahead of it, but its youth currently hinders it from being a top contender this season.

It’s funny how you can make a paragraph written about Illinois football sound like a paragraph about Illinois men’s basketball just by adding some excitement and optimism to it.

And that’s really what this program is missing — not excitement and optimism, so much as reason for excitement and optimism.

Football is a slog when you aren’t a top contender, and Illinois certainly isn’t a top contender at the moment. You can blame whomever you want — Tim Beckman, Tim Banks, the entire secondary, Ryan Lankford’s shoulder — but you have to have patience in football. Mike Thomas knows that, it would seem.

Still, it’s going to be hard waiting out the three-hour obliteration set to take place Saturday at Memorial Stadium.

The Buckeyes bring a top team and a chip on their shoulder to Champaign, as they haven’t lost since 2011, yet aren’t considered a championship-worthy program. Braxton Miller is at the top of his game, Carlos Hyde and Jordan Hall are both threats from the backfield, and Illinois’ defense can do nothing but tailspin right now because that’s what happens in a tailspin — tailspinning.

For the seniors, this is the last chance they have to take on the Buckeyes with the prospect of netting the Illibuck trophy. Unfortunately, this team lacks the firepower to slow Ohio State’s momentum while kicking up some of their own.

Nathan Scheelhaase has had a hell of a year, and he can at least send the Buckeyes home with some bad individual report cards, if not with the loss. After putting up 35 points against Indiana that weren’t close to enough, the Illinois offense isn’t really in a funk. It’s just the team that is.

But the defense made a couple nice plays last Saturday. Two crucial turnovers and three sacks almost made up for four touchdowns of 40 or more yards. Almost.

It’s tough for the Illini right now, but a good loss against Ohio State can build the necessary momentum to bring them into the low-down showdown with the Boilermakers with some confidence.

A win against Purdue might create some momentum for the final contest of the season against Northwestern, which may as well be a bowl game. The team could probably put themselves behind beating Northwestern to go out. I’m sure Jonathan Brown would like a chance to show himself as a premier Big Ten linebacker against a school that knows him simply as “the nut-puncher,” as Brown was suspended for a game for an ill-advised fist to the groin area of a Northwestern player during Brown’s sophomore season.

But this isn’t the time to get hyped up for Northwestern. It’s the time to get hyped up for Ohio State, which, eh. Seniors Brown and Steve Hull organized a team meeting to keep everyone focused and not let some of the younger players give up. Which is smart, because if you’re a young player about to get blasted by the best team in the conference to bring your losing streaks up to six and 20, respective of this season and the Big Ten in general, you may consider giving a little bit less of a crap.

The fans have, and that will show itself at the stadium on Saturday. That is, unless Illinois fans have a genuine curiosity in what good football looks like, which Ohio State is likely to showcase.

The game won’t be fun, for Illinois at least, and it won’t be exciting. But it’s important for the Illini to endure, play a redeemable game, and get into the last part of the season. Once the struggle of squandering bowl eligibility is over, Illinois will be able to re-adjust its goals, and only then can we start looking for some positive takeaways from this season.

Eliot is a senior in Media. He can be reached at [email protected] Follow him on Twitter @EliotTweet.