Here we are, bearing down on November, and Illinois football is the highlight of my autumn. This is not the norm. Yet, with Saturday’s pasting of Indiana (always fun, regardless of time, place or sport), the Illini moved to a respectable 4-3, with those three losses coming to teams that are a combined 22-1 (!), one of which took down #1 this weekend. They’ve beaten the teams they’re supposed to, played hard in every game, and exceeded my early season wish of being “a scrappy team that beats you up.”
Also this weekend, the basketball team (preseason #16) scrimmaged and is probably the most athletic team Illinois has ever had. Meyers Leonard went for a cool 27-11-4. He’s a freshman bench player. He’s also 7 feet tall and does these kinds of things:
This puts me into nearly uncharted territory – actually excited and feeling fairly confident about the direction of both Illinois football and basketball at the same time. This has happened precisely one other time in my lifetime – 2001. Kurt Kittner was winning crazy shootouts and taking us to the Sugar Bowl:
while Frank Williams was at the height of his powers:
Lucky for me, I was a freshman on campus, soaking it all in. It should be noted, most of this is due to the ineptitude of football (as Mike Tirico skillfully put it in the video above “Tradition has taken a vacation”….burn). You could make the argument that we’ve got the most successful program to never have won a national title (high five?). That said, the recent football successes outside of ’01 (late ‘90s, 2007) always seemed to be accompanied by a dip in basketball fortunes.
On top of all that, we’re a little over 24 hours away from the most underrated period in all of sports: from NBA tip-off to the end of the World Series (Go Rangers – I wish ill on all teams that bail on their home cities out of principle), all four major sports are in season. Fannntastic.