Three media members who will cover today’s game weigh in:
No one’s seen this Illinois team in action yet, but you’ll be seeing an offense that’s drastically different from last year in Bill Cubit being on board. I think people often underestimate sometimes the learning curve there is with a new offense. To offset that learning curve, what an advantage it is for any team to have a fourth-year starting quarterback return like Illinois does with Nathan Scheelhaase. You look at his first two years, he led the team to bowl games and showed consistent improvement. Going through what he went through last year with injuries and getting hurt early, he’ll be more experienced and better prepared for this season. You can’t judge a guy when he’s hurt. That’s just not fair to any athlete. We give a lot of props to people who go out and play hurt, but it’s very, very difficult to play well when you’re hurt.
Mike Reis, SIU
When they think of playing SIU, Illini fans always mention Howard Griffith’s eight touchdowns versus the Salukis in 1990. That was a jaw-dropping performance. When they think of playing Illinois, SIU fans think of 1985, when the Salukis missed a 48-yard field goal with 1:28 remaining in the game that cost them a tie with Jack Trudeau, and the Illini went on to win 28-25. That dropped jaws, too. Especially at halftime when Illini fans booed. SIU was obsessed with the Illinois game the previous three games. I don’t sense that this year. If anything, Southern is obsessed with returning to the FCS playoffs after a two-year hiatus, not the Illinois game. Still, a win over Illinois would be one of the biggest wins in school history. Meanwhile, it feels in Carbondale as if the Illini are taking SIU lightly. True or not, SIU’s running backs are not to be taken lightly. A deep, speedy Saluki defense that can score points also should not be taken lightly. SIU will not be intimidated playing on this stage. A huge key for SIU will be its ability to block the Illini. The talent level of the running backs doesn’t matter if there are no holes to run through. Another key: SIU’s response if it falls behind. When the Salukis beat Indiana in 2006, they trailed the Hoosiers 14-0 in the first quarter. They trailed Northern Illinois 31-10 in 2007 after three quarters only to win 34-31. FCS upsets of FBS teams are much more common now. Will this game join that crowd?
Todd Hefferman, The Southern Illinoisan
I’m not as optimistic about big SIU victories as I used to be, so I’m expecting the Salukis’ effort at Illinois to be like a Mike Tyson fight in the 1980s. SIU will play well in the first half, probably even lead at the break, but ultimately fold in the end. If the Fighting Illini don’t panic after trailing early, which some teams mired in a nine-game losing streak sometimes do, they’ll eventually pull away in the second half. The question is, will Illinois fall over itself like Michael Spinks in the first 100 seconds of his fight against Tyson back in the day, or will it persevere like James “Buster” Douglas? The Salukis’ running game is intriguing with two FBS transfers and a pretty speedy junior college transfer in Tay Willis. I find it hard to believe SIU won’t be able to run the football better than it did in 2010, when it ended up with less than 50 yards on the ground against the Illini. The Salukis struggled to complete long passes for touchdowns during the spring and this fall, and don’t appear built to be a heavy passing team. If they can keep themselves in second-and-short and third-and-short, they will score points. Their defense should be good enough to keep them in the game. With so much pressure to win, I just can’t see Illinois dropping the ball in its home opener.
Before and after today’s 11 a.m. kickoff, tune in and participate at WDWS 1400-AM:
Saturday Sportsline (8 a.m.)
Loren Tate and Jim Turpin chat with Illinois AD Mike Thomas (8:10 a.m.), former Illini J Leman (8:30) and Voice of the Salukis Mike Reis (8:45).
Illini Gameday Pregame Show (9:30 a.m.)
Steve Kelly talks shop with Tate, Voice of the Illini Brian Barnhart and ex-Illini standouts Kurt Kittner and Martin O’Donnell. Also included: comments from players and coaches as well as traffic updates.
Illini Postgame Show (approx. 2:30 p.m.)
Brian Moline and O’Donnell host the call-in show (217-356-9397), with Tim Ditman working the scoreboard. Also, Kelly and Tate will interview UI coordinators plus key players from the locker room.