By Dave Wischnowsky –
(CBS) Just when you think things can’t get any worse for Fighting Illini football, the schedule shows this: “Nov. 3., at Ohio State, Columbus, Ohio, 2:30 p.m. CT.” And then you think to yourself, “Well, crap.”
Or, you know, something along those lines.
This past Saturday, after even lowly Indiana feasted on Illinois during a 31-17 victory in Champaign, Illini football coach Tim Beckman revealed to the media a new weight loss plan: coaching a 2-6 football team.
“I’ve lost 22 pounds,” Beckman said, although he was hardly bragging about it. “You think I like losing? I haven’t been around it. I hate it. We just continue to go and plug forward.”
Or backwards, depending on how you look at it.
With the loss to IU on homecoming, Illinois suffered its fifth consecutive ugly defeat (average score 39-12) and its 10th consecutive Big Ten setback. In the game, the Illini also squandered what was likely their best chance to notch a conference victory this season.
With undefeated Ohio State on tap next for the Illini, it’s fair to wonder when exactly will Beckman’s Illini win again. And, heck, if the guy will even be the head coach of the program when the team does.
Now, as badly as the Illini have struggled this season, leaving Beckman without any answers – although, a trim waistline – I find it unlikely that he’ll be gone after just one season in Champaign. That’s not to say that he shouldn’t be. Reasonable people can certainly make an argument that Illinois should simply cut its losses with a coach so clearly in over his head in the Big Ten. Others are entitled to argue against it.
Either way, though, I doubt that athletic director Mike Thomas will cut the cord with his handpicked coach that quickly. It could happen, of course, but it’s unlikely.
Also unlikely, are Illinois’ hopes to win another game this season.
Illini defensive coordinator Tim Banks said on Saturday, “Before you win, you got to stop losing,” but that’s not happening this weekend in Columbus. Never mind that the Illini miraculously have won three of their last five visits to The Horseshoe. This time around, Urban Meyer’s OSU is a 24-point favorite, and that’s probably being generous toward Illinois.
Next up for the Illini following Ohio State are home games against Minnesota (5-3, 1-3) and Purdue (3-5, 0-4). Neither program is particularly strong this season, but Minnesota just whipped Purdue 44-28, while the Boilermakers two weeks ago fell just 29-22 to Ohio State in overtime.
If Illinois can hang that closely with the Buckeyes, well, then maybe they can top Purdue. Consider this Saturday a litmus test.
After those home games, the Illini close out the 2012 season with a trip to Evanston, where they rarely win – and aren’t likely to this year, either. Pat Fitzgerald’s 7-2 squad could potentially be going for its 10th victory against the Illini.
So, the odds are with Illinois finishing this season with a 2-10 record. And if so, 2013 – with or without Beckman – is shaping up to look the same. One would think that Illinois would be able to finally snap its skid in the season opener on Aug. 31 when it hosts Southern Illinois University, an FCS rival.
Beyond that, however, there aren’t a whole lot of apparent wins on the 2013 Illini schedule. In fact, there’s only one “clear-cut” opportunity – on Sept. 28 when Miami, Ohio (4-4 this season) visits Champaign.
Otherwise, Illinois faces major-conference foes Cincinnati (in Champaign) and Washington (at Soldier Field) before they stare down a daunting Big Ten schedule that opens with games at Nebraska, vs. Wisconsin and vs. Michigan State. After that, Illinois travels to Penn State and Indiana, hosts Ohio State, road trips to Purdue and hosts Northwestern.
Now, if any of those games jump out at you as a likely win, well, they sure don’t to me. And while Tim Beckman – if he lasts another season – is likely to get another win at some point, he might never get his first Big Ten one.
Not if he doesn’t do better than 2-10 in both 2012 and 2013.
If nothing else, Dave Wischnowsky is an Illinois boy. Raised in Bourbonnais, educated at the University of Illinois and bred on sports in the Land of Lincoln, he now resides on Chicago’s North Side, just blocks from Wrigley Field. Formerly a reporter and blogger for the Chicago Tribune, Dave currently writes a syndicated column, The Wisch List, which you can check out via his blog at http://www.wischlist.com. Follow him on Twitter @wischlist and read more of his CBS Chicago blog entries here.