While Cincinnati is no Washington, Illinois’ surprise victory over the Bearcats certainly adds a new level of intrigue to next Saturday’s game between the Huskies and Illini at Soldier Field. Last week Illinois struggled to dispatch FCS Southern Illinois 42-34, which caused me to sort of shrug them off as a legitimate road test for the Huskies. That ugly win combined with the 2-10 record in 2012 had me figuring that Washington should be expected to beat Illinois by a wide margin home or away.
That is probably still true as far as expectations go. If this game is within two touchdowns, it will disappoint and worry fans and put a damper on some of the momentum and hype built up from the successful week one win. Seeing that the Illini are capable of beating a solid FBS team (or what was expected to be a solid team) in their own house comes as a surprise, but it doesn’t need to cause Husky fans to reevaluate their expectations. If Washington’s new offensive attack overwhelmed Boise State, it should overwhelm Illinois, regardless of location. This win may just mean that Washington doesn’t have quite so large a margin for error, that they can’t start the game slow and indecisive and expect to win based on talent alone.
Obviously Coach Sark doesn’t plan on that happening, and I don’t see it happening either. I am confident in a Washington victory by at least a few scores. One other result of this morning’s Illinois victory? A decisive Washington win may actually boost them in the polls a bit. If the Illini had been defeated, as was expected, a UW triumph over a 1-1 team with one close win over S. Illinois would not have impressed pollsters. A clear win over a 2-0 Illinois? That might be worth a jump from #20 to #18. Even if some consider them meaningless, it’s understandable for Husky fans to get excited over the rankings after many years of going mostly unranked.
If the Huskies want to stay ranked, defeating Illinois will be an important next step to a successful season.