By a show of hands, who expected to see "(2-0)" following "Fighting Illini" after Week 2?
That's what I thought.
The Fighting Illini, who finished 2-10 last year without a single Big Ten conference win, have already matched their two wins from 2013 with two more games remaining before commencing Big Ten play. Next week's game pits the Illini against the University of Washington Huskies. Washington is ranked No. 19 in the nation.
The Illini have already exceeded expectations so far this season. The Illini lead the Big Ten in passing yards (yes, you read that right). Additionally, starting quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase is second in the conference in quarterback rating behind Indiana's Nate Sudfeld.
Illinois is quickly on their way to shutting a lot of critics up. A win over No. 19 Washington would surely put Illinois in the polls, something nobody besides the players' moms expected.
Even with a loss on Saturday, the Illini can still begin Big Ten play with a winning record pending a win over Miami of Ohio on September 28. Miami (OH) is 0-2 following a 52-14 loss to Marshall and a 41-7 loss to Kentucky. They will face Cincinnati on September 21 before heading to Champaign.
Let's assume Illinois loses one of their next two games. The Illini would begin Big Ten play 3-1 with eight games remaining. Worst-case scenario, the Illini go 3-9; sadly enough, that's an improvement from last season.
Illinois also could improve on last year's Big Ten record. Well, they at least can't regress.
As for stats, Illinois has played quite impressively. Quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase is first in the Big Ten in passing with 728 passing yards in two games. That puts him only 633 yards behind last year's total of 1,361 passing yards in 10 games.
Because of the Illini's 45-17 win over Cincinnati, they have a tremendous amount of momentum and confidence heading into their Chicago homecoming game at Soldier Field. Their drubbing of Cincy may be just what the Illini need to have a successful season.
In a way, the Illini have already exceeded expectations by starting off 2-0 and leading the Big Ten in multiple offensive categories. At this point last season, Illinois was 1-1 with only 38 total points.
With the confidence Illinois has after Saturday's win, the Illini will only continue to improve with the help of new offensive coordinator Bill Cubit. The threat of Scheelhaase to senior wide receive Ryan Lankford has been a winning combination. With some improvement in their rushing game, the Illinois offense will be bounds ahead of what was expected.
Time will soon tell if the Illini will continue their early success. The quickly approaching conference schedule will indeed be tough, but their momentum and confidence they've built already will help them throughout the season and will propel them past their critics' expectations.
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