SOC - Michigan
I've started this post three times now. Get several lines in, hate it, delete all, start over. When I do that, I'm generally avoiding talking about what I should be talking about. Here's what I should be talking about: my crutch. Please try to stay with me, because this one might take a while.
I barely got into Illinois. Like, barely barely. On that chart of "if you're this percentile in your high school class, you need this ACT score to get in", I was exactly on the number. I was sweating that application for so very long. One day, I got home, parked in the carport, started to walk into the house, and saw a banner above the back porch (my dad made it on his dot matrix printer) saying "CONGRATS, University of Illinois freshman, Fall 1991". I threw my car keys in the air. They landed on the roof.
Why barely? Because I'm not that smart. Like, not book smart. I know my Liechtenstein from my Luxembourg and I can write a book report on Chuck Yeager but I didn't exactly climb the class rankings in high school. I was just your average student.
So how did I get into Illinois? My ACT score. How did my ACT score far out-pace my grades? My crutch.
Here's how it went for me. I'd take the standardized tests in, like, sixth grade or whatever (I think they were called SRA tests?). I'd test really high. I'd get placed in the "advanced" class. I'd really, really struggle in that class. Sometimes I would be dropped down to the "regular" academic track. Then I'd take another standardized test and test out at the top of my class. So it was back to the advanced track. Where I'd struggle.
How would I test well? Guessing, mostly. I'm really good at guessing. I don't think of it as "guessing", it's more that I can just kind of see the answer even though I don't know how to solve the problem. I take the ACT or whatever, the question would say to find the split infinitive or find the remainder of the derivative or whatever, and I'd have no clue. But I'd look at the four answers and D would just stick out. I didn't know how to solve for D, but B and D were really close to each other, and B just had the feel of a trick answer, so I'm going with D.
I could write good, so my English scores usually tested well. And then multiple choice tests were to be guessed, not solved. I wouldn't get every question right, but I'd guess well enough to, you know, get a high enough ACT score to gain entrance into the University of Illinois.
Quick story: I tested into AP classes in high school. It was an abject disaster. I was dropped out of those classes twice. I still remember the day when the history teacher, Miss Kay, kicked me out of AP history and sent me back down to "regular" history. Like all teachers, she was frustrated with my high test scores and low grades. I wasn't "applying myself". Nope. I was just really good at finding the answers that "felt right" on multiple choice tests.
This carried through my entire academic career, even in college. I've written before about how close I came to flunking out. If it wasn't multiple choice, I was in trouble. I had to work and work and work to get my degree. Honestly, I'm 46 now and still surprised that I pulled it off.
And I still operate like this. I still go by feel, not knowledge. It's why I comp so much when writing about sports. I don't navigate through statistics (although they help). I study what has worked before, what hasn't worked before, and feel my way around the world.
When watching football, I don't really know my outside zone from my inside zone, and honestly, I have no desire to learn. I'd just get confused and frustrated and ask way too many questions, like when my Chemistry teacher would try to explain noble gasses. Somebody just get me a multiple choice test so I can guess the right answers.
How have I done well predicting Illini games then? All intuition and feel. It's why I wait until the night before. The less I know about the opponent, the better. I just want to know this team, and where they're at, and what former Illini teams have done in similar situations. I'll put it all into my brain and out will come a prediction. I've been leaning on this crutch my entire life. Observation, observation, observation, guess. Knowledge doesn't enter the equation very much.
Which is frustrating for, like, every single human around me. I'll ask someone to explain something very basic, and they'll think I'm putting them on, but I'm not. I'm looking for data points to put in the machine, and I don't really care if I sound dumb when asking for the data. As I said above, this is just how I navigate the world.
When I'm wrong? Especially when I'm dead wrong? It bothers me. So, so much. When I say that I go around pulling out all the data again and going over it and over it, trying to figure out where I went wrong, this is what I mean. Applying that to this team, I just don't understand how this roster isn't going to win seven games. 90% of all programs would be turned around by now. I spent four hours looking for comps back in August and 89 out of 96 coaching hires got to six wins by the fourth year. It's nearly a lock to happen.
It's not happening.
And now it's October 12, 2019. I input some comps into the machine back in March of 2016 and it spit out "October 12, 2019". So I added it to my Twitter bio and waited patiently for The Moment. It's now less than 12 hours away, and there hasn't been a single sign that it might happen tomorrow.
I was OK with the losses in 2017 and even 2018. We're rebuilding from a Not Ideal location and it will take some time. But never fear - at some point, there's a click, and we'll win 18 of 31 games. When I felt that moment hit (post-Wisconsin last year), I made the declaration: We'll now in 18 of the next 31. We're 3-7 since.
I'm so bothered by the fact that it's not happening that I can barely function. I keep hanging on and hanging on, waiting for it to happen. It keeps not happening. I go back to the data and see that even bad coaches win 6 games one time in their first four years. And I realize that if it doesn't happen for us, that means.......
Someone asked me this week what goes in my Twitter bio tomorrow night, and I hadn't even thought about it. I'm still in this fantasy land where I trust my 2016 data readouts - tomorrow we have a Moment. I cannot even begin to describe to you what my emotions will be immediately after we lose. "You've been chasing me your whole life only to fail now? I think that's about the worst thing I've ever heard. How marvelous."
The hardest part, as I wrote earlier this week, is misleading people. I take that very seriously. I'm a fan, and an excitable one at that, but when I predict 7-5 it's because that's what I see on the field, not because I got too worked up in August. I went over and over and over the data (other gut-job rebuilds in year four), went over and over the schedule, and settled on 7-5. Many of you got excited. It looks like I mislead you. I hate that. HATE.
My music choices this week? As sad as sadness can sad. October 12, 2019 is here, and we're nowhere near the program I was expecting to see, which means we're probably not going to have a breakout moment, which means another rebuild, which means hundreds and hundreds and hundreds more hours following and writing about losing football. It's just all so incomprehensibly sad.
But I guess I don't have to lean into that sadness for another 14 hours, right? It's after midnight, which means it's actually October 12, 2019, so I still get to pretend until around 2:30 when the game is over. That little voice of "maybe 2016-me was right and this is the moment it all comes together?" still gets to speak for a little while longer.
So I'm going to listen to him. I have to. I can't not. It would be too crushing to not let him speak. One last time.
Illinois 13, Michigan 12