The 2012 Illinois Football season did not go quite as planned. With a large number of injuries and changes in the coaching staff, it was difficult for the Illini to get much going as a team. As we look forward to the 2013 season, just a little over a month away, there are five games that have the appearance of must win games if the Illini hope to sneak into a bowl game in 2013.
5. Week 3 – v.s. Washington
On September 14th, the Illini travel to Chicago, Illinois for a tough matchup against the Washington Huskies. This game, being billed as the “Chicago Homecoming”, is a must win in a couple regards. First of all, as the Illini try to gain a foothold in recruiting in the Chicago area, this game would do wonders for their ability to gain high-caliber talent from the Chicago area. Coach Tim Beckman has often said that his main recruiting areas are Chicago, Indianapolis, and Saint Louis, so it is no surprise that Illinois needs to show up and compete in this game. Another facet to this game is the back and forth Illinois has with Northwestern about who Chicago roots for. We have all seen the “Our State, Our Team” campaign. If the Illini grab a win in this game, that takes them a step further in solidifying Chicago as “Illini Country”.
4. Week 11 – @ Indiana
November 9th’s game against the Hoosiers of Indiana is a matchup of two teams that, let’s be honest, have not been very good over the past couple years. This game, if both teams struggle this year, could be a battle to stay out of last place in the Big Ten. With the small gains the Illini have made in the past month or so in regards to recruiting, having another year in the cellar of the Big Ten is something that could hurt the team in the long run. If the Illini grab this win, they could, at very least, ensure they do not finish dead last in the conference.
3. Week 9 – v.s. Michigan State
Homecoming weekend in Champaign, October 26th, brings the Michigan State Spartans to town, and it gives the Illini a chance to shine against a good home crowd and against a team that should be better on paper than the Illini. Andrew Maxwell will get the chance to come out against the Illini in his senior campaign, much like Nathan Scheelhaase, and make a name for himself. Teams like to ruin other team’s homecomings, and the Illini scheduled a tough draw for theirs. That being said, there is potential for an upset here. Michigan State does not appear, at least as of right now, to be as tough as they have been in recent years. That bodes well for Illinois, as the game could be a close one with the Illini coming out on top.
2. Week 1 – v.s. Southern Illinois
The season opener against Southern Illinois is clearly a must win. You have to win the games against teams that are not as good as you. That is no knock on Southern Illinois, but they come from the Football Championship Subdivision, so if the Illini want to get off on the right foot this season, they will need to come out on all cylinders against the Salukis. Southern Illinois will come out with the same mindset, wanting to defeat an in-state Big Ten school. If the Illini slip up or come into the game without focus, the Salukis could upset the Illini, starting a downward spiral to a long season.
1. Week 12 – v.s. Ohio State
The most important must win game this year is against the Ohio State Buckeyes on November 16th at Memorial Stadium. Our season simulation on the site, just like other season simulations I saw this year, have the Buckeyes being number one in the nation most, if not all, of the season. Coming into Champaign is a huge bonus for the Illini. Recently, they have not fared as well in Champaign against the Buckeyes as they would like to, but with the team potentially coming into town ranked number one in the nation, the fan base will be electric for this one. This will be, more than likely, the toughest test for the Illini this year. A win here would potentially ruin Ohio State’s hopes of a national title, but would also, if playing well, boost Illinois bowl standing. There are not many times that the Illini get a chance to play a top five team at home, and when that chance does arrive, you have to be able to capitalize on it and bring home the win.
Writing Illini Season Sim Note: Illinois could have beat OSU 53-52, but the Buckeyes took an interception 102 yards for a TD as time expired (2-point conversion added).
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