CHAMPAIGN — Next weekend at Nebraska, Illinois will run into a bunch of firsts that could tell the Illini whether this year’s 2-1 team is better than last year’s that started with the same record.
That game will be Illinois’ first true road game, its first Big Ten game of the season and its first shot at putting the bad memory of a winless 2012 conference schedule in the past.
But first, there’s the matter of Miami (Ohio) on Saturday at home. The Redhawks are 0-3 and, to hear defensive end Tim Kynard tell it, exactly the kind of team the Illini had trouble taking seriously enough in 2012.
“We downgraded them,” he said of teams the Illini were favored to beat. “This year we’re giving everybody respect, not downgrading teams or the players.”
The Illini learned their lesson the hard way. After the 2-1 start, they dropped nine in a row.
Miami has scored just 21 points so far. The Redhawks’ 448 yards of offense would make a good afternoon for most teams. And they sound just a little awed by the Illini, the thirds-straight BCS team the MAC school will face.
“They are just huge on offense — I don’t know if they have a guy under 6-5,” coach Don Treadwell said, going to on to assess Illinois’ receivers, a deep group that’s specializing in catches of 20 yards or more. “They look like an All- American track team. I have not seen them not run by a team yet.”
Five things to watch on Saturday:
CAN ILLINOIS GO 3-1?: A year ago, the Illini were 2-1 heading into a game against Louisiana Tech. The 52-24 loss started the ball rolling downhill toward a 2-10 finish. At least as far as the record goes, Illinois finds itself in exactly the same spot this week. But quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase and others say this year’s 2-1 team isn’t like last year’s. “We have more identity, and I think we have more interest and comfort with what we’re all about,” he said. “And I don’t think necessarily we felt that last year.”