Paul M. Banks a.k.a. The Sports Bank The St. Louis-bred social philosopher Nelly once told us, “Can’t nobody stop the juice, so baby tell me what’s the use” in his 2002 hit “Hot in Here.” This maxim was true for opposing defenses all season as Illinois quarterback Juice Williams broke the school record for single season total offense with 3,892 combined passing and rushing yards. On his way to breaking the record of Tony Eason –the New England Patriots starting QB in Super Bowl XX- Juice broke single game total offense records for both Memorial Stadium and Michigan Stadium, the latter of which is especially impressive given the rich history of Michigan Wolverines football.
Unfortunately, the rest of the Fighting Illini didn’t have juice like Williams did on the field. After 2007’s Rose Bowl Champaign campaign, most people in Illini Nation expected a similar encore in 2008. Instead, Illinois finished just 5-7 after getting walloped by #20 Northwestern 27-10 on Saturday. This “earned” them the dubious distinction of being the first team to go from Rose Bowl one year to no bowl the next since (well, Illinois again in) 1984. However that team was sanctioned by the NCAA and allowed no bowl appearance. The last team to legitimately go from Roses to thorns was over 40 years ago. Soon after Juice watched the fans of his rival team storm Ryan Field in celebration, I asked him if expectations were too high in Champaign and if that led to collapse: “I don’t think the pressure really got to us, I think it’s more a matter of not coming out every Saturday and performing like we know we can. We can’t have morale victories out there. We can’t have games where we say we should have won that game, that’s not enough. We’re at the point where we can win games, we just got to go out there and do it.”
Had Illinois won and later secured a bowl berth, it would have been the first time since 1992 that the program procured consecutive bowl game seasons. Juice talked about the pain and disappointment of coming up just short. “It’s like you expect something on Christmas and then you wake up and it’s not there: It’s the type of feeling you have when you realize there’s really nothing more you can do about it…We worked so hard to come out and be successful and to be one game short of being bowl eligible is a feeling that is going to eat at you.”
For my Washington Times.com blog “Chicago Blue State.”