CHAMPAIGN — Ask Tim Beckman or various members of the Illinois football team, and the answer is basically the same.
They don’t pay attention to the polls.
Don’t give them the time of day.
Don’t look at them twice. Or at all.
“I wasn’t even aware of it,” Beckman said Monday of Illinois receiving nine points in the Associated Press poll and three points in the latest coaches’ poll. “We’re just worried about one game at a time. We know we get an opportunity to play a very, very good football team in Washington, and that’s all we’re worried about right now.”
That’s near-perfect coachspeak.
The players are following the company line, too.
How much does Nathan Scheelhaase pay attention to where Illinois is in the rankings after two weeks of football?
“None. Zero,” the Illinois quarterback said. “That means we’re doing well if we’re getting votes, I guess, but for us as a team, it doesn’t really mean too much of anything at this point.”
Tight end Matt LaCosse echoed similar sentiments.
“If they want to vote for us, that’s cool,” he said. “If they don’t, that’s fine, too. We’re just going to play.”
Then the Naperville native opened up a bit more on the topic.
“I’m not going to lie, it’s pretty nice,” LaCosse said. “It’s better than being on the other end, of course. Hopefully, we can keep it that way and keep on getting recognition.”
Washington is securely in the Top 25. The Huskies check in at No. 19 in the AP poll and 23rd in the coaches poll. Saturday’s game is the first time Illinois will play a ranked nonconference foe since Arizona State ventured into Memorial Stadium for Illinois’ third game during the 2011 season. A 17-14 win against the 22nd-ranked Sun Devils vaulted Illinois into the Top 25. A win against the Huskies could do the same for Illinois this season.
Maybe then Illinois might talk about the rankings more. But don’t bet on it.
“That’s something we really don’t focus on,” linebacker Jonathan Brown said. “Our main goal is to get better each day, and if we do that, we’ll be where we need to be.”
Things are heating up
The new signs for the Washington game are already up around the Illinois football offices. The Huskies’ logo is featured prominently in between the date of the game and the fact that this is Illinois’ third game of the year. But the buzz going on outside Memorial Stadium this week is an aspect Tim Beckman has not experienced so far during his Illinois tenure. Beat writer MATT DANIELS offers up three other items to keep the momentum going leading up to Saturday’s 5 p.m. kickoff with Washington at Soldier Field.
1. O say can you see ...
If you haven’t watched Jim Cornelison perform the national anthem, be prepared for a treat. The well-renowned performer, who sings The Star Spangled Banner before Blackhawks’ home games and other events around Chicago, will show off his pipes before Saturday’s game. That alone is worth the price of admission. Go ahead and watch a YouTube clip if you’re unfamiliar with Cornelison’s work. Nothing against the Marching Illini, but this is one national anthem you want to be in the stands for.
2. Speaking of ticket prices ...
Jason Heggemeyer probably felt great relief after Illinois beat Cincinnati. Heggemeyer, Illinois’ assistant athletic director in charge of ticketing, said Monday ticket sales have reached 40,000. While it probably won’t approach the sellout at Soldier Field last year when Miami and Notre Dame played, the seats (and suites) in Chicago won’t sit half-empty, like many people expected before the season started.
3. On the line ...
The folks in Las Vegas typically know what’s going on with college football. Washington starts the week as a 10-point favorite on Illinois. Perhaps it’s a good sign the Illini aren’t favored to win. Cincinnati was an eight-point favorite, and look how that turned out last Saturday. “Underdogs, top dogs, it doesn’t matter,” defensive end Houston Bates said. “We’re going to go in and play our hearts out and see what the end result is.”