Washington game is full of possibilities

After last week, anything is possible.

Rose Bowl, right? Why not?

Enter the Washington Huskies, the team whose job it is to knock some sense into Illinois fans before they go and get their hopes up.

A win in this game, and the ceiling shatters. Illinois is clearly a team that’s improving. Illinois has shown it can be the aggressor and keep opposing defenses on their heels. Illinois is the raging underdog — once counted out, now fearsome.

Cincinnati was only one game. I think the team knows that. I think head coach Tim Beckman knows that. But if the Illini topple Washington, well, that’d be two games. Two good wins over two good opponents. And a third win, which was only close because it was a fluke.

Oh, but how Illinois could lose. Picture the turnovers, the lapses on defense from a young secondary. The offense running out of tricks, using wrinkles that backfire and gadget plays that go nowhere.

Picture the special teams horrors. The shanked punts!

Picture it coming down to the wire. Nathan Scheelhaase barking orders to his receivers as the lights grow bright in Soldier Field and the clock winds down, the crowd, unsure when the game started, now drawn in and committed to the Orange and Blue. He takes the snap, drops back and rolls out of the pocket; will he find his man and throw or see a crease and run?

Picture a last-second field goal attempt. Washington’s kicking. Illinois had edged out a 30-29 advantage, but Washington’s offense methodically worked clock as it drove downfield. A late tightening by the Illinois defense helps somewhat, but a 40-yard field goal is in the works, and the difference between “Rose Bowl or Bust” and Cincinnati being the true fluke is rising, end over end, toward the uprights. The ball arcs, heads downward, does it have enough distance? The kick is…

Picture Illinois dominating. The defense takes another step forward, the offense continues to be impossibly vast, the special teams dazzle. Donovonn Young gets rolling early and doesn’t quit. Josh Ferguson strikes knockout blow after knockout blow as an unfathomable pace-changer. Aaron Bailey blows through a soft Pac-12 defensive front with his Big Ten bulk. The Illini have Soldier Field in their clutches.

Picture an overtime thriller that lasts long into the night.

Picture a game that’s decided by the end of the first quarter.

Isn’t it weird how you can see it all? Two weeks ago, you couldn’t picture a touchdown pass. You actually forgot what an Illinois touchdown pass looked like.

And here we are — we still remember the terrible, but fresh on our minds is the great performance the Illini put on last week. There’s no way to know what to think.

Washington is the best team Illinois has faced this season, and it’s not really close. The Huskies decimated a Boise State team that was needing a win to prove itself, 38-6. They had a bye week last week, so they’ve been preparing for Illinois for two weeks and may have had some luck digesting Bill Cubit’s ridiculous offense.

It’s entirely possible that they’re prepared and ready to dominate an inferior team.

Running back Bishop Sankey was a stud in Week 1, netting 161 yards on 25 carries with two touchdowns. Quarterback Keith Price threw for 324 yards without preseason All-American Austin Seferian-Jenkins, who returns from a one-game suspension.

Illinois’ defense has been carried by its linebackers, as the defensive line has done a so-so job of pressuring quarterbacks and the secondary has done a pretty rough job keeping receivers covered. The Illini allowed 400 yards in both games so far, and Washington should provide the biggest challenge yet.

None of this, however, lends us a concrete insight into what to expect from Saturday’s game. It will be in Chicago, so it’s important for Illinois to put up a good showing. It will definitely be better than the one fans were expecting in the preseason.

But for now, let’s tamper our expectations. Anything’s possible in this one, but I think Washington will outplay the Illini and bring things back to reality by sending them home 2-1.

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