Illinois hurting, ‘pissed’ after loss to Michigan? It comes with the territory of being pretty good

Even though the Illini have dropped three in a row, they’ve had as many games worth talking about as any Big Ten team in 2022.

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Illinois v Michigan

Isaiah Williams and Illinois came up just short at Michigan.

Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images

The funny thing is that — in a 30,000-foot sense — an Illinois upset of unbeaten No. 3 Michigan in Ann Arbor might not have made much of a difference in the outcomes of the season for either team.

The Illini still would’ve needed significant help to win the Big Ten West and reach the conference championship game for the first time. The Wolverines still would’ve had a trip to Ohio State up next, with a chance to knock off their rival, set up a potential 12th victory in Indianapolis and move forward to the College Football Playoff.

As it is, the Wolverines’ come-from-behind 19-17 victory Saturday left them in great shape — banged-up star running back Blake Corum notwithstanding — at 11-0 for the first time since 2006.

And for the Illini (7-4), it was a day of barely missing a 15-year football high for the school — going all the way back to a shocking victory at No. 1 Ohio State in 2007 that paved the way to the Rose Bowl — and, instead, just plain hurting like hell in the end. Which is, viewed at close range, all the difference in the world.

Such is life in college football when a team has dared to make itself relevant. And even though the Illini have lost three in a row, they’ve had as many games worth talking about as any Big Ten team in 2022.

‘‘The growth to where we are right now from where we were a year ago at this time is astronomical,’’ coach Bret Bielema said.

Bielema was ‘‘extremely pissed off, just very angry, very upset’’ during and after the game at the officiating, which he characterized as a seasonlong, Illini-unfriendly theme. There was a brutal ruling in a close loss at Indiana early and a game-changing flag that zapped the Illini’s momentum last weekend against Purdue. Against Michigan, there were at least a few questionable calls — or non-calls — that had the Illini feeling they had been up against more than just an elite opponent.

‘‘I keep getting answers I don’t love,’’ Bielema said.

But winning programs tend not to have running beefs with the stripes. They tend to be too busy — what’s the word? — winning.

Iowa v Minnesota

After beating Minnesota, Iowa controls its destiny in the Big Ten West.

Photo by David Berding/Getty Images

Three-dot dash

Illinois might have one more chance to get lucky — absurdly lucky — and it would necessitate the following results in Week 13: (1) an Iowa loss to Nebraska on Friday in Iowa City; (2) a Purdue loss Saturday at Indiana; and (3) an Illini victory Saturday at Northwestern. But if Iowa beats the lowly Huskers, we’ll have our West champ right there. In other words, congrats to the Hawkeyes, who aren’t losing. . . .

Bielema was on the sideline in Ann Arbor two days after the death of his mother, Marilyn, and choked up after the game while describing a text he had received from ex-NFL tight end Dallas Clark, who played at Iowa when Bielema was on the staff there. Clark’s message was that mothers were ‘‘at their happiest when they watch their sons do what they love.’’

‘‘My mom, she definitely knows I love to coach,’’ Bielema said. ‘‘She’s probably going to get on me for being mean [about the refs] or mad or angry, but I do know that she’s probably smiling today in certain regards.’’ . . .

It wasn’t long ago that Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh — who couldn’t beat Ohio State, had a hard time with rival Michigan State and was falling well short of savior-like expectations — was taking heat from the national media on a regular basis. Now he’s 51-17 in the Big Ten. Not bad at all, is it?

‘‘It’s like they’re always ready to play,’’ Captain Khakis said of his team. ‘‘Like they were born ready to play.’’ . . .

Michigan-Ohio State is going to be bonkers, with each team 11-0 for the first time since 2006. The game that year — truly one of the best ever — ended 42-39 in favor of the Buckeyes. If we’re lucky, this one at least will be in the same galaxy. . . .

The Bulls have whatever they have. The Bucks have Giannis Antetokounmpo, the best player on the planet, out on the court putting up extra shots and knocking over ladders after games. Seems kind of uneven. . . .

Bears 26, Falcons 24. And print it. . . .

How about former Lincoln Park baller Terrence Shannon? For weeks leading up to the season, the Texas Tech transfer made 1,000 shots a day before practice at Illinois even started. On Friday in Las Vegas, he popped No. 8 UCLA for eight three-pointers and scored 29 points in a 79-70 upset that opened a whole lot of eyes.

‘‘When I was finished at Lincoln Park, I had zero Division I offers,’’ he said. ‘‘To see where I’m at now, nobody would’ve ever thought it.’’

This you gotta see

World Cup: U.S. vs. Wales (1 p.m. Monday, Fox-32, Telemundo): How long has it been since Wales’ last World Cup? So long — 64 years — it was knocked out by a goal from none other than Brazil’s Pele.

49ers vs. Cardinals (7:15 p.m. Monday, ESPN): Only one question for these teams as they do business at the iconic Estadio Azteca in Mexico City: Don’t they realize the rest of the world is playing football in the Middle East?

‘‘SHAQ,’’ Part 1 (8 p.m. Wednesday, HBO): A four-part documentary series examines the life and career of Shaquille O’Neal. Who’d you think it was about, Shaq Rubinstein?

Only because you asked

From Dan, via email: ‘‘A few weeks back you stated, pretty definitively, that Illinois was [definitely] going to the Big Ten title game in Indy. I laughed to myself when I read that and thought, ‘Well, Steve, you just jinxed it.’ What do you have to say for yourself?’’

I’m not sure I have that kind of reach, but you’re welcome just the same. By the way, don’t forget to cancel your hotel reservations if you made them three weeks ago, like I did.

The bottom five

L.A. sports fans: Speaking of Illinois-UCLA, it was a total orange takeover in the stands, even though Champaign is almost 1,500 miles farther from Las Vegas than Westwood is. We’ve heard of fashionably late, but fashionably absent?

Qatar: Look, even citizens rarely pronounce the name of the World Cup host nation the same way twice.

Turkey: Not the nation, silly, the bird. In what universe is one of those suckers supposed to fit in my refrigerator?

Zach LaVine: Don’t like being benched down the stretch of a close game? Maybe hit a couple of shots. Or play some defense. At the very least, topple the nearest ladder.

Northwestern football: And that’s using ‘‘football’’ very loosely.

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