Beat writer Scott Richey will keep providing updates all night long from Camp Randall Stadium as Illinois takes on Wisconsin in the 2020 Big Ten opener. Follow along right here:
Meanwhile, back in Champaign. The watch party at Memorial Stadium is drawing a pretty good-sized student crowd.
Tonight's Illini starters:
LT - Vederian Lowe
LG - Kendrick Green
C - Doug Kramer
RG - Verdis Brown
RT - Alex Palczewski
QB - Brandon Peters
RB - Mike Epstein
WR - Josh Imatorbhebhe
WR - Casey Washington
WR - Donny Navarro
TE - Daniel Barker
DE - Owen Carney Jr.
NT - Roderick Perry II
DT - Jamal Woods
DE - Marc Mondesir
OLB - Khalan Tolson
MLB - Jake Hansen
OLB - Delano Ware
CB - Nate Hobbs
CB - Tony Adams
S - Sydney Brown
S - Derrick Smith
K - James McCourt
P - Blake Hayes
We're about an hour from kickoff in Madison, and there's already some rather significant news to report. Illinois released its list of unavailable players for tonight's game, and there are some big names on it.
Out at Wisconsin— Illini Stats & Notes (@IlliniStats) October 23, 2020
DL Isaiah Gay
DB Michael Marchese
WR Trevon Sidney
DB Devon Witherspoon
OL Blake Jeresaty (season)
Defensive line was already a question mark heading into the season, and no Isaiah Gay only exacerbates that. Getting pressure on Wisconsin redshirt freshman quarterback Graham Mertz could be important. Gay's absence means Illinois will have to put an inexperienced defensive end on the field to start the game.
Devon Witherspoon being unavailable is just as big a blow. You might remember the sophomore cornerback from his game-saving tackle in last year's upset of Wisconsin. The big question, of course, is if Witherspoon is out does that mean Tony Adams moves back to corner or does Marquez Beason make his Illini debut as a starter?
Looking out from the Camp Randal Stadium press box to no one (save for some cardboard cutouts in the seats closest to the field) is a surreal feeling.
The press box itself is pretty empty, too. Wisconsin is taking the social distancing thing seriously. I'm at an end of a row, and I've got more than six feet between my seat and where the Chicago Tribune's Shannon Ryan will sit.
Warmups are underway, but for the moment only the specialists for both teams are on the field.
The News-Gazette will be represented at Camp Randall Stadium for tonight's Big Ten opener between Illinois and Wisconsin. Beat writer Scott Richey (that's me as I shift to first person) is, in fact, set up in an undisclosed Marriott-brand location in Wisconsin right now prepping for his gameday coverage.
In a typical year I might venture out in Madison. Check out campus (again). In 2020? Hotel. Camp Randall. Nothing in between. Especially in Wisconsin.
The hotel was even a concession to 2020, in a way. The press box at Camp Randall is set to close 30 minutes after the last Zoom interview is complete. That's not enough time to provide you all with the exhaustive coverage that will wind up right here at IlliniHQ.com in the wee hours Saturday morning. That and much more will grace the pages of Sunday's News-Gazette.
The strangeness of 2020 aside, the drive from Champaign to Madison was exceedingly normal. I could have done without the rain, but being back on the road for the first time since early March (Illini basketball at Ohio State) was a surreal feeling. Then I hit the construction as soon as I crossed the Illinois-Wisconsin border, and all felt right with the world. It was a sign that at least some things never, ever, ever change.
In our still not-so-normal world, I won't be joined for tonight's game by News-Gazette colleague Bob Asmussen. Wisconsin credentialed just six total Illinois media members. It will be nice, though, to see the Decatur Herald & Review's Joey Wagner, the Chicago Tribune's Shannon Ryan, 247Sports' Jeremy Werner, Gatehouse correspondent Gavin Good and Gabby Hajduk from the Daily Illini.
Here we go. I'll check back in when I can get into Camp Randall at 5:30 p.m.
Our beat writer caught up with the Illini coach before Friday night's season opener at Wisconsin
Beat writer Scott Richey breaks down the 2020 season opener
Here's what you should expect in the Illini's season opener
Three AP voters give their take on the Illini quarterback ahead of Friday night's season opener at Wisconsin
'Last year, when we played Wisconsin, it was an all-around effort by everybody,' defensive lineman Jamal Woods said
Well, here we go again. The 2020 Illinois football, once thought lost to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, starts tonight in Madison, Wis. The Illini don't ease into it either, with No. 14 Wisconsin first up in the revised (times two) Big Ten schedule.
No nonconference warmup in 2020. No shot at an Illinois State or UConn or Bowling Green before jumping into Big Ten play. No, it's a headfirst dive into the deep end immediately instead.
The Illini and Badgers kick of at 7 p.m. at Camp Randal Stadium. Most will be listening (check out Brian Barnhart and Martin O'Donnell on WDWS) or watching from home. The Big Ten has banned fans in 2020, and even the allowance for families of players and coaches has been put on pause in Madison.
While you get ready for the start of the most unique Illinois football season in more than a century, catch up on our exhaustive preseason coverage leading up to today's game. It was a team effort by the entire N-G sports staff, including long-time beat writer Bob Asmussen, sports editor Matt Daniels, preps writer Colin Likas with a major assist, copy editor Joe Vozzelli and beat writer Scott Richey.
Richey will represent the N-G in Madison as one of just six Illinois media credentialed to make the trip in the new COVID-19 world we're living in. He'll provide updates throughout the day and late into the night as befitting a 7 p.m. kickoff. (Don't ask his opinion on that. Or do. He doesn't mind sharing).
As always, right here at IlliniHQ.com is where all your gameday needs will be answered, including more from our preseason deep dive on the Illini:
Uniform tweaks further awareness of social justice issues
CHAMPAIGN — Illinois football players have taken an active stance on social justice issues in the last few months, including an athlete-organized march in late August against police violence and racial injustice. Redshirt junior offensive lineman Kendrick Green and senior cornerback Nate Hobbs spearheaded that initiative, and others have been active on social media to promote awareness, too.
The Illini will use Friday’s season opener at No. 14 Wisconsin to further that cause. Illinois will replace its traditional orange and blue Block I helmet decal with a black Block I instead.
“We wanted to show that we are aware of what’s happening in our country right now,” Hobbs said in an official release. “We’re willing to take a stand, not as one, but as a unit.”
Asmussen | Illini, get ready for a college football season like no other
CHAMPAIGN — It’s 11 a.m. on Dec. 5.
Three inches of snow blanket the Memorial Stadium turf. And the white stuff fills the empty stands.
Well, almost empty ... except for the cardboard cutouts of fans ($50 to $99 a pop) and the faux Marching Illini.
In five minutes, Illinois and Iowa will run onto Zuppke Field to no applause, other than what’s generated by the loudspeakers and scoreboards.
No smell of roasting hot dogs or popcorn in the air. No beers being spilled on people in the next row.
Outside beautiful Memorial Stadium, the usual hustle and bustle are absent.
If the Dick Butkus and Red Grange statues could talk, it would be some version of, “What the heck is going on around here?”
More from the 2020 Illinois football special section:
GCMS grad Barnes aiming for bigger special teams presence
CHAMPAIGN — Bryce Barnes is readily visible for about 2 seconds.
His nameplate and number 48, in dark blue print on a gray uniform backdrop, are seen bouncing around before being sucked into a sea of humanity.
The then-Illinois football freshman turns into one small piece of a massive celebration, set off by James McCourt’s 39-yard field goal that allowed the Illini to upset No. 6 Wisconsin 24-23 at Memorial Stadium on Oct. 19, 2019.
It’s all archived in a YouTube video on the Illinois athletics website.
Of course, Barnes lived the moment. And the 2019 Gibson City-Melvin-Sibley graduate can provide a slightly different perspective from it.
“I ended up at the bottom of the pile, and (McCourt and I) were face to face underneath everybody,” said Barnes, who was blocking on the line as McCourt booted the ball through the uprights in front of the Illini band and student section. “It was an honor for me to be out there in such a big win for this program. I wanted to start crying just because of how happy I was.”
More from the local Illini:
Asmussen | Illini O-line learns from earlier struggles
CHAMPAIGN — Kendrick Green, Doug Kramer, Vederian Lowe and Alex Palczewski have learned a lot about each other over the years.
Along with new-to-the-lineup Verdis Brown, they will make up the starting offensive line Friday night at No. 14 Wisconsin.
They are close. Not in a forced way. But naturally.
“I think it’s really simple,” Kramer said Tuesday. “There’s never been too many issues in our room. We’ve been friends from the start.”
“We’ve just seen each other grow up over these past three years,” Palczewski added. “We’ve all grown up from these freshmen who didn’t know what was going on.”
In 2017, they were part of a 2-10 team that didn’t win a Big Ten game. For the offensive linemen, it was a punch in the gut.
To their credit, they got better. Four wins in ‘18 and six last season.
Now, they want to take another step. Toward the top of the Big Ten West.
More from Bob Asmussen:
Illinois underdogs against Wisconsin again
CHAMPAIGN — Jake Hansen sauntered into the interview room at the Smith Center following Illinois football’s upset of No. 6 Wisconsin last October.
It’s the only way to describe Hansen’s entrance — cigar in his hands and a smile on his face.
Hansen also made a point of noting just how much the people that set the gambling lines considered the Illini underdogs against the Badgers.
“Thirty-one point spread, huh?” the Illinois linebacker yelled out as he made his way from a celebratory locker room to the small lobby outside the Smith Center weight room filled with reporters.
Monday marked the one-year anniversary of the biggest Illinois football win in more than a decade. It also coincided with the line for this year’s rematch with Wisconsin receiving a slight adjustment.
Wisconsin opened as a 23 1/2-point favorite last week for the 7 p.m. Friday Big Ten opener in Madison, Wis. Monday’s adjustment didn’t really make Illinois any less the underdog. The Badgers are still considered approximately a 19- or 20-point favorite.
More from Scott Richey
Scott Richey is a reporter covering college basketball at The News-Gazette. His email is firstname.lastname@example.org, and you can follow him on Twitter (@srrichey).