SOC - Florida Atlantic
My main emotion this week has been "hurry up." I'm fairly certain we win this game, and if we do, then there's an immediate shift to "OK now the real season begins." We move on to the game at Purdue and then Nebraska comes here and we're off to the races.
If we were to lose this one, well, then there's an answer. It's a full-on rebuilding year. If we win, then I'll spend nine seconds thinking about it before shifting my thoughts to Purdue. All of that leaves me wanting to get this game over with quickly.
I mean, Florida Atlantic might be better than Purdue. We might look up at the end of the season and see 8-4 FAU and 3-9 Purdue. We're still in that stage where we're not exactly sure who is good and who is not. I'm not saying this game is meaningless and the next game is everything. But after our 1-2 start, my main thought has been "thank God the Big Ten West looks awful", and immediately after that I want to fast-forward to our games against Big Ten West teams.
And if you're wondering just how awful the Big Ten West might be, I was on Brian Fremeau's site yesterday looking up something from a previous season and I saw the Big Ten West rankings (in his FEI metric) from 2017. Let's just compare the Big Ten West now to what it was (nationally) six years ago.
2017 FEI rankings:
2023 FEI rankings:
The four best Big Ten West teams in 2017: 7th, 14th 26th, and 32nd nationally. The four best Big Ten West teams in 2023 (so far): 26th, 29th, 34th, and 54th.
Purdue lost tonight, so they're going to drop. And after their game against us next week their next four games are Iowa, Ohio State, Nebraska, and Michigan. So if they lose to us to drop to 1-4, they're looking at a best case scenario of 2-7 after those games.
Wisconsin isn't exactly setting the world on fire either. Through four games they've given up 1,500 yards. Yes, we've had similar defensive struggles, but giving up 375 yards per game against Buffalo, Wazzu, Georgia Southern, and Purdue means that Wisconsin doesn't have a Wisconsin defense this year.
I'm not saying these things to say "we're awesome and the rest of the teams in the Big Ten West are bad." We're 118th in total defense right now, giving up 446 yards per game. Yes, our schedule has been tough compared to everyone else, but still, we gave up 160 points in 13 games last year and are on pace to give up 399 points in 13 games this year. 160 points in 13 games... and now 92 points in three games. We have a deep hole to dig out of.
Which is why I'm pleased that there doesn't appear to be a single "good" team in the Big Ten West. Which is why I'm so anxious to get to Big Ten West play. Which is why I'm spending this FAU SOC talking about conference play.
Maybe the best way to frame my emotions towards tomorrow is that I don't want to learn anything that would alter what I'm currently hoping to be true. I want to hurry up and get this week of games over with while all of the following remains true:
- The Big Ten West is still a disaster. Let Iowa get pounded by Penn State and then maybe give me a Nebraska loss at home to Louisiana Tech.
- We bounce back with a big game against a Group Of Five opponent giving more credence to the thought that our rough start was due to our tough schedule.
- Penn State, Kansas, and Toledo all win making that opening schedule look even tougher.
Give me those three things and I can continue hoping my hope. I can continue to believe that the difficult games are behind us and that there aren't any difficult games ahead of us. Indiana + Maryland + a disastrous Big Ten West would mean that we'd have a chance in every game, home and away. At the end of the year we could maybe even look back and say something stupid like "you know, maybe Penn State, Kansas, and Toledo were our three toughest games?"
I just want to live in that world a little longer. And to do that, I need a bounce-back game tomorrow. Give me confidence going into Purdue and then, hopefully, really take it to a struggling team in our Big Ten West opener.
That's it. I'm clinging to that. I'm not even really making a prediction here. I have a tight grip on this narrative and won't let go until I'm forced to. I need to jump right to the prediction and then go to bed.
Illinois 40, Florida Atlantic 17