5. Fitting ending to 2023 for the Illinois football team
This has been one of the crazier seasons in recent memory. The ups were really high, but the downs were some of the lowest I have felt in the Bret Bielema era.
When I step back and look at the 2023 schedule, it was actually a decently tough road. The win over Toledo in game one looks pretty good, as the Rockets went on to win the next 11 games to go 11-1 this season.
Starting 2-2 wasn’t bad, but losses to Purdue and Nebraska were killers. I thought the season was over then, but Illinois would proceed to beat Maryland on the road. This gave life to bowl hopes.
Illinois then blew a fourth quarter lead to Wisconsin. After this loss, I thought there was little chance of going bowling. The Illini then had a miracle game against Minnesota and a big comeback against Indiana to get back to 5-5. These were huge victories and gave me hope once again.
A tough loss to a top-20 Iowa program was painful. And then Saturday happened. Illinois scored a touchdown in the final few seconds, and all we had to do was get a two-point conversion. Illinois would come up short on that final play. We were so close, yet so far away. That was the mantra of the 2023 season.
There were so many what-ifs this season. The biggest for me is; what if John Paddock was the starter from day one? Would this season look any different? Do we score more than 26 total points against Purdue and Nebraska and maybe win one of those games? Do we not cough up the ball five times against Penn State and maybe upset a top-10 team? Does Illinois blow Wisconsin out of the water and we don’t have to worry about the fourth quarter?
Saturday’s result was a fitting way to end the 2023 season. It was a roller coaster with the final play for the Illini coming up just short.