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Illinois Preview

Illini Favored Over Enigma Wildcats


Which is more unexpected - that the Wildcats are 2-1 or the Illini are 4-0?

Looking near the end of last season, NU’s late season fade commenced with them getting thrashed by Illinois. And then getting humiliated by Wisconsin. The pain ended with NU’s late, but ultimately futile run at Texas Tech. Everyone stated the obvious - Northwestern just didn’t have the fire without Persa.

Fast forward a very long summer and the Wildcats’ 2011 edition is still without Persa. We’re a month into the season and the team is now 2-1. Without Persa. Given how bad the last three 2010 season games were, having a couple of wins before Persa’s return is not entirely terrible.

Illinois had a strong finish last year, leaving Zook with the head coaching job for a little linger. They also got off to a strong start this year. Going into the game today the Illini are 4-0 and ranked.

So, which one is more surprising at this point? That the Wildcats are 2-1 without Persa or that the Illini are 4-0? To me, the surprise is the 4-0 Illini. Will the surprise continue or will things fall apart? The Illini are somewhere between 7 - 10 point favorites.

Let’s look at “surprises” with this week’s The Good, The Bad, and The Predicted.


The Good:

Today’s game is the Big Ten opener for both the Illini and the Wildcats. Illinois chooses to make this game Homecoming, making the assumption that NU is still like the NU of the Dark Ages - imminently beatable.

The Illini learn very quickly that they should have scheduled a little better and gotten Indiana as their proposed patsy. Persa starts and picks up pretty much where he left off. Everything works. The Illini secondary gets so riddled that they start really overloading toward defending the pass. That’s when the Wildcats unleash their ground game, which chews up both yardage and time. NU’s offense is surprisingly effective and not at all like the last game’s futile efforts.

Meanwhile, the Wildcat defense surprises the Illini early by getting a couple of takeaways. Illinois never quite gets their game going on all cylinders. On top of that, the special teams show that the poor showing at West Point was an aberration, consistently giving the Wildcats better field position for both offense and defense. By the end of the game, people are whispering about Zook’s chances of getting fired by the end of the season.

The Final Score: Wildcats 38, Illini 17. And it isn’t really that close. Zook Deathwatch 2011 begins.

The Bad:

Today’s game is the Big Ten opener for both the Illini and the Wildcats. Illinois chooses to make this game Homecoming, making the assumption that NU is still like the NU of the Dark Ages - imminently beatable.

The Illini find no surprises as their proposed patsy plays the role too well. Persa starts and gets hammered to the turf quickly. The Illini defense surprise the NU O-line, making the less than mobile Persa scramble for his life. Likewise, the run game is taken out immediately with stop after stop. NU’s offense is surprisingly ineffective and looks very much like the offense that floundered in the last game’s futile efforts.

Meanwhile, the Wildcat defense is surprised by an Illinois offense that gets going on all cylinders. The Illini rack up the yards on both the ground and in the air. On top of that, even the special teams don’t show up to play. The Illini consistently gain better field position for both offense and defense. By the end of the game, Illinois looks like a Big Ten champion.

The Final Score: Illinois 42, NU 17. It is a surprisingly ugly day for Wildcat fans.

The Probable:

Today’s game is the Big Ten opener for both the Illini and the Wildcats. Illinois chooses to make this game Homecoming, making the assumption that NU is still like the NU of the Dark Ages - imminently beatable.

The Illini very quickly question that assumption given that the Wildcats have no intention to be the patsy. Persa starts and while he doesn’t look like he’s in mid-season form, he is good enough to gain both yards and points. It is clear that there is renewed confidence within the Wildcats. Even the ground game is looking good as the most balanced NU offense in some time moves the ball consistently.

Meanwhile, the Wildcat defense proves to be tough for the Illini to shove around. The NU defenders are better than Western Michigan or South Dakota State. The Wildcat special teams put on a better show than their previous game, giving Northwestern the edge in a hard fought game. By the end of the game, the Illini faithful are wondering if this is such a special season after all.

The Final Score: Northwestern 38, Illinois 28. Homecoming is ruined and the anti-Zook rumbles begin.


Looking Ahead...

At some point I shall add my own opinion to the cacophony surrounding conference realignments and the miasma of ethical lapses throughout college football.

Go Cats!

BJ Mitchell (Former NUMB Spirit Leader)
NUMBSpiritLeader@gmail.com
Twitter: #nuspiritleader.

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