Win May 20, 2013 8 Comments
I spend my days thinking of ways for Illini football to improve. The fact that the largest state in the Big Ten footprint has such an abysmal football program (while the next three biggest states – Pennsylvania, Ohio, and Michigan are all doing OK for themselves) is the great mystery of our time, and I believe that I, Robert, have been sent to this earth to solve the riddle.
There will be a meeting some day in Urbana/Champaign, and President Hefner will call me into his office and ask for the results of my three-year study on how to improve the football program at the University of Illinois, and I’ll hand him a two page report: a cover sheet, and then a single page with just one word:
It’s so simple that it will blow everyone’s mind. There will be murmurs among everyone in the room – in my mind, Ron Swanson is the Chancellor while the guitarist from Hum is the Athletic Director – and then someone will finally say “it’s amazing that we’ve never tried this before”.
Here’s what I mean. Have you seen Northwestern’s recruiting this month? Fitzee is killing it. It’s killing me. I lose sleep over it. 4-star kids in Illinois are staying home to play for Northwestern. Worst game-day atmosphere of any BCS-conference program, smallest crowds in the Big Ten, attend-a-game-there-and-it-feels-like-you’re-at-a-Division-II-game NORTHWESTERN is killing it on the recruiting trail. Why? Because they win football games.
Why do they win football games? Because they’ve slowly and methodically built a program. How did they do that? Well, partly because they scheduled the easiest non-conference opponents in the nation during Pat Fitzgerald’s tenure. They went 6-10 in the Big Ten in 2010 and 2011… and went to back-to-back bowl games. How did they do that? Easy – they went from 2007 to 2012 without playing a non-conference opponent with a winning record. Win three non-conference games, win three conference games, keep momentum, bowl game. Then when they have a breakout season like 2012, everything takes off. And I mean takes off. This is already the greatest recruiting class in Northwestern history, and it’s only 10 players. And it’s May.
Why the sudden surge? Five consecutive bowls. Why five consecutive bowls? Easiest non-conference schedule in the nation turned a couple 3-5 conference seasons into bowl seasons. Why easiest non-conference schedule? Because all Jim Phillips cared about was wins.
I’m so jealous. Seriously – Jan-to-Marcia-Brady jealous. While our athletic director remained the only AD in the country still following the “if you play Texas State at home, the crowd will be tiny and the revenue will be crappy” mindset, everyone else drank our milkshake. Northwestern’s Jim Phillips especially. Again, I tracked Northwestern and Illinois’ non-conference FBS opponents during The Streak from 2007 through 2011 where we didn’t play anyone with a losing record and they didn’t play one with a winning record. Those stunning numbers again:
Illini opponents: 123-57 (.683)
Northwestern opponents: 47-133 (.261)
Man, this post is halfway over and I’m not even close to my point yet. Every time I do this I get sidetracked with Northwestern jealousy. Northwestern jealousy. I still can’t believe this is happening. Here’s my point.
Win. Just focus on getting wins. When I was celebrating our scheduling of Western Kentucky and Texas State for 2014 last week – I went a little insane on Twitter with 15 years of incredulity overflowing – I still had people responding to me with “but what will be the crowds for those games? 15,000?”
I. Don’t. Care.
I don’t care if we play those games in front of 3,000 people. I don’t care if we move them to Huff Hall. Just win football games. That’s it. Win. Just win them. There are, like, a hundred thousand benefits to winning football games, but I’ll just mention 9 of them.
1. People like wins.
2. Wins are well received by recruits.
3. Team confidence is boosted by wins.
4. You can use a soft non-conference schedule to implement your schemes and prepare younger players.
5. Winning is fun.
6. People will buy tickets if you win.
7. We get to say things like “yeah, we won on Saturday” around the water cooler.
8. Losing isn’t very enjoyable.
9. Wins are pretty cool.
You ever type out a blog post and no matter how hard you try you can’t get to your point? That’s what’s happening to me right now. I just can’t get around to it. I need an outline. Here’s what I’m trying to say.
A) I don’t believe the whole “you need a schedule that is attractive to fans”. You know what’s attractive to fans? Wins. 15,000 new season ticket holders after a 9-4 season in 2007 >>>>>>>>>> “people might be interested if we played Cincinnati instead of some MAC team in Champaign”. Win consistently and they will come. A winning program is 491 times more important than sexy non-conference opponents. Sure, scheduling nobodies isn’t a guarantee that your program will improve. But scheduling everybodies is a near guarantee that it won’t.
B) I kinda don’t even believe the whole “it’s just about finding the right head coach and having him teach all 85 players exactly what to do”. That works in basketball – it really doesn’t work in football. Football is way more complicated than that. Consistency is almost more important than competency. Build a program, not a team. And the best way to build a program is to start winning and then make the right decisions when those coaches inevitably leave.
C) I’ve seen some say that they hope we tank even further this season so that Beckman will be fired. They’ve already decided he’s not the guy, so it’s best that we lose and lose often so that he’s gone as soon as possible. To that I say… win as many games as possible and let Mike Thomas handle the rest. He fired Ron Zook after a bowl season, and he would do the same again if he thought Beckman wasn’t up to the task. Tanking just further damages our recruiting, and I want as many athletes as possible for Beckman or for the next coach. So string together some wins – enough to attract recruits – and let the direction of the program decision play itself out.
Yep – still can’t find the point I set out to make. Maybe I need to talk the inverse.
I’m not saying that scheduling so we can go 6-6 (2-6) every year is the way to go. Zook accomplished that for two seasons, and I wanted him gone. And I’m not saying we schedule like that forever – eventually, the fans will desire a bump in the schedule (if the team in consistently winning).
I’m saying that every program that has gone from our side of the coin to the other in the last 20 years has done so by focusing on wins and winning seasons first. Kansas State, Wisconsin, Virginia Tech, Missouri, Northwestern, Baylor, etc – all had three things in common:
1) Schedule absolutely no one until the program is built. And I mean absolutely no one. Schedule yourself four non-conference wins, even if nobody shows up at the game.
2) Have a “thing” – Wisconsin O-line and run game, VaTech defense and special teams, K-State is the destination for all top Juco players, Missouri deep shotgun spread, etc. – that gives you an identity to recruits and fans.
3) Put together a string of bowl games to sell recruits and slowly build from there.
And if you change coaches during that time, try to keep everything as consistent as possible. There was consistency from Randy Walker to Fitzee; from Alvarez to Bielema. Missouri lost their offensive guru and had his replacement groomed to step in. Change very little, and keep your thing.
What did we do while these programs were climbing the last 20 years?
1) Scheduled the toughest non-conference schedule in the nation.
2) Had multiple things. Tepper defense, Turner offense, Ron Zook NFL Training Academy. Oh, and seven different offenses the last 10 years.
3) Finished one game away from a bowl FIVE times.
Is that not unbelievable? Toughest non-con schedule and seven coordinators in 10 years should force an athletic director to be dragged to a senate hearing or something. Those 5-wins seasons that could have been six or seven are criminal in some way, right?
Win. Just win games. Score more points than the other team. Don’t care about ticket sales or strength of schedule or “doesn’t Kathy Ireland kick for Texas State?” call-outs – just go win football games. That’s the point of this entire post.
Basketball Stuff May 17, 2013 2 Comments
Took me a bit to get around to this, what with all the football schedule announcements and the decision by the Big Ten to feed the nobodies to the somebodies. Hey, that reminds me…
So we don’t know the dates, but we know our Big Ten opponents for next year. They announced our one-play opponents, so we now know the full conference schedule:
at Michigan State
at Ohio State
at Penn State
When I look at a single-play schedule, I always look for one thing: put all of the top conference teams in there. Give me two games against Penn State every year and single plays against Ohio State and Michigan State. Hmm… I should clarify. As long as Ed Dechellis isn’t the Penn State coach and Bruce Weber isn’t our coach, give me two games against Penn State every year.
That worked out fairly well for us last year. Our single plays were at Iowa, at Michigan State, home for Penn State and home for Indiana (how did that game turn out, anyway?). This year it’s a little worse. I’d love to have home games against Northwestern and Minnesota and even a road game against Purdue. The only positive I see is “at least we don’t have to go to Michigan”.
Of course, it’s silly for me to think like this. As our 8-10 conference record and SEVEN SEED proves (seriously, that happened), to the committee, when you lose to a team like Michigan State on the road, it’s almost like the game didn’t happen. I’m looking for wins when I evaluate our one-plays, but the committee looks for quality opponents. Beat some of them and they’ll ignore the losses.
So how will we finish? Well, part of that hinges on this whole Starks/Henry thing. If Myke Henry is truly gone, I’m a little more worried. If Ahmad Starks transfers in, I feel a little better, but not all the way back to pre-Henry-leaving. More on that in a bit. For now, here’s a top-of-the-head prediction for next year assuming Henry is gone and a starting lineup of Abrams, Rice, Bertrand, Ekey, and Egwu.
Michigan State L
at Michigan State L
Ohio State L
at Ohio State L
at Indiana L
Penn State W
at Penn State W
at Iowa L
at Wisconsin L
at Nebraska W
at Northwestern W
at Minnesota W
Hey look, 8-10 again! Except this 8-10 probably doesn’t get us to the tournament. In both strength of schedule and record, right now, I’d say our tournament chances next year might hinge on our ability to win maybe two of MSU, tOSU, Iowa, and Michigan at home. With Henry gone and an Illinois State transfer maybe playing 30 minutes per game, I just can’t see that happening.
Henry and Starks
I think I’m all caught up from everything I missed while I was gone. Myke Henry wasn’t at the banquet, Groce is telling radio stations it’s “possible” he’s transferring, and the rumblings at all of the Caravan events says that Henry won’t be returning. And then you filter in all of the twitter/message board rumors floating around “Henry had academic goals he needed to reach or he’d be gone”, “Bertrand is slated to start at the four”, “Henry has already left to pursue a spot in the Broadway revival of Brigadoon”… it’s hard to understand what’s going on.
For me, there’s enough smoke for it to be fire, so I’m going to assume Henry won’t be joining us next season. And since he was my “if Myke Henry makes a big jump and becomes a go-to scorer and rebounder” guy, this news hits pretty hard. Egwu returns, but the other three guys that rotated in at the four (and five) last year, Griffey, McLaurin, and Henry, would all be gone. Which means we need to find three guys to replace them. Right now, that’s ISU-transfer Ekey, true-freshman Austin Colbert, and true-freshman Maverick Morgan.
Ideally, Henry is here playing 26 minutes at the four. Ekey gets the other 14, and then the freshmen bigs fight over 10-12 minutes backing up Egwu. Remove Henry, and that’s 26 minutes we either have to fill with one of the freshmen or a guy like Bertrand playing minutes at the four.
So in situations like this, I always picture a road game and a dominant Big Ten power forward. We go up to, say, Michigan State, and Ekey or one of the freshmen is going to have to guard Brandon Dawson (while Bertrand tries to contain Adrien Payne)? That’s just… that’s yikes. It’s asking way too much of the freshmen and stretching JoeBert way too far.
For me, I’m still clinging to “Henry somehow returns and gives us solid minutes at the four, surprising us with 6.8 rebounds per game”. Because if not, I’m not sure where our rebounding comes from. Or our defense. Offense, too.
Starks would help, yes. Add a backup point guard and a spot-duty shooting guard (albeit very short), and it allows us to bring the freshmen guards (Hill, Nunn, and Tate) along slowly. You always want to bring freshmen along slowly. So I’d love to see Starks join and give us some backcourt depth.
But if he’s here, that means Henry is gone (we can’t have both – that would be 14 scholarship players). So his arrival, for me, would be a bit bittersweet. What this all reinforces for me is, well, let’s make that the next point.
2014 Power Forward
This all reinforces one thing for me: our biggest need in the 2014 class is a dominant, ready-to-play-right-away forward. As bearish as I am on 2013/14, I immediately switch to bullish (VERY bullish) on 2014/15 if we can land a big-time PF. Watch how much the complexion of 2014/15 chances when I add, oh, I don’t know, Cliff Alexander to the mix:
PG: Abrams (SR), Tate (SO)
SG: Cosby (JR), Nunn (SO)
WG: Rice (SR), Hill (SO)
PF: Alexander (FR), Paul 2.0 (SO), Finke (FR)
C: Egwu (SR), Morgan (SO), Colbert (SO)
That goes from “pretty good team that returns everyone” to “wow, we might contend for a league title” with just one dominant four, right? And it doesn’t have to be Cliff. I mean, I want it to be Cliff. I want it to be Cliff so very badly. But say it was Leron Black from Memphis. He’s more of a 3/4 type, but add his scoring and rebounding to that team and BOOM let’s start talking about the second weekend of the tournament.
Yes, there might be surprises along the way. One of the freshman guards might make Rayvonte Rice a role player. Darius Paul might step in and be quite dominant after he sits out a year (there has to be a reason that Florida, Marquette, Missouri, Miami (FL) and others were in hot pursuit of Paul). So maybe we already have the pieces for a second weekend run in two years.
But man oh man would a Cliff Alexander or a Leron Black change my whole view of that team. I’m impatient, so I’m dying to compete for conference titles again. And Alexander or Black just might do it.
OK, fine – I’ll take JaQuan Lyle, too.
Lambs For Slaughter May 16, 2013 2 Comments
As you know, I’m constantly, unwaveringly searching the horizon for ways to improve the football program the University of Illinois. If I see a recruit I love (Nick Allegretti), I push all in. If I see a schedule that might help us, I beg for it. The biggest thing this program needs is wins, so I’m in constant search for ways to get there.
As such, I was quite excited to hear of this “parity based scheduling” that Jim Delany has been talking about. Specifically the part where he said “you’re going to see a lot of competition between teams at the top of either division”. Why does that make me excited? Because we’re in no way one of the top teams. In fact, right now, we’re probably 14th out of 14. Which means that while the top teams play the top teams, we get to play someone we might actually beat. And then we might win. And then maybe all the recruits in the state stop laughing in our face. And then maybe we kinda sorta start to possibly build something.
But I was wrong. Apparently, that “parity based scheduling” doesn’t begin until 2016, when we move to the 9-game conference schedule. Which gives the Big Ten Schedule makers two years to send the lambs up for slaughter. And slaughter they did.
To have a baseline here, I’ll just top-of-my-head rank the 14 Big Ten programs right now. And given our 14 game conference losing streak, I know we’re gonna end up 14th. I’ll keep Penn State near the top as well – we all know they’ll fall once the sanctions hit, but the sanctions won’t really hit until 2015/16 or so (right now, they just have a small incoming freshman class).
- Ohio State
- Penn State
- Michigan State
Gets a little muddy there in the middle. MSU/Iowa/NW is a bit of a tossup; same for Maryland/Indiana/Minnesota. So I mostly went with program history there (and yes, I still feel like that puts Minnesota below Indiana).
So, using these values, here are the crossover games scheduled for 2014:
Ohio State: Illinois (14), Minnesota (13)
Michigan: Minnesota (13), Northwestern (8)
Nebraska: Michigan State (6), Rutgers (9)
Wisconsin: Maryland (11), Rutgers (9)
Penn State: Illinois (14), Northwestern (8)
Michigan State: Purdue (10), Nebraska (3)
Iowa: Maryland (11), Indiana (12)
Northwestern: Michigan (2), Penn State (5)
Rutgers: Nebraska (3), Wisconsin (4)
Purdue: Michigan State (6), Indiana (12 – protected crossover game)
Maryland: Iowa (7), Wisconsin (4)
Indiana: Purdue (10), Iowa (7)
Minnesota: Ohio State (1), Michigan (2)
Illinois: Ohio State (1), Penn State (5)
Hey, let’s use those point totals and rank the easiest crossover schedule (highest point total) down to the toughest:
- Ohio State (27)
- Iowa (23)
- Penn State (22)
- Michigan (21)
- Wisconsin (20)
- Purdue (18)
- Indiana (17)
- Nebraska (15)
- Michigan State (13)
- Maryland (11)
- Northwestern (7)
- Rutgers (7)
- Illinois (6)
- Minnesota (3)
I mean, call me crazy, but… it’s almost like… the schedule was designed so that the probable bowl teams would get wins and the lambs would get slaughtered. I mean, it was probably a random draw and all and I’m just some CRAZY conspiracy theorist, but I get the sense that they wanted Ohio State to get Minnesota and Illinois while Minnesota got Michigan and Ohio State. I mean, it’s almost like that was planned out beforehand.
The sample is a bit spoiled by the one protected rivalry crossover game – Purdue and Indiana get to play each other every year from here on out. But if that crossover wasn’t protected, chances are that both IU and Purdue would have been thrown to the wolves with that second game.
We did get rather lucky here (well, compared to Minnesota). Penn State still counts as a conference powerhouse, which means we’re being fed to them. But in 2014, the cracks will be starting to show. They have four years where they’re restricted to only 15 scholarships – the 2013, 2014, 2015, and 2016 recruiting classes. So while this year will still have a mostly full roster, next year it starts to fall off. By 2016, with normal attrition, they’ll pretty much be down to 55 scholarship players. So if Penn State is our opponent in 2014 and 2015, that’s actually not that bad. They won’t bottom out until 2016 and 2017 (when they’ll honestly have to play around 10 true freshmen), but they’ll be starting their slide.
But still, I woke up this morning begging for Indiana and Maryland. After hearing that we get Western Kentucky and Texas State in the non-conference, I started dreaming about six wins and a bowl game in 2014. The “parity based crossover scheduling” would feed us two beatable teams, one at home, and that might just be enough to push us over the edge and get that bowl game. Which might get less recruits to laugh at us and points our needle skyward. Which maybe, for the first time since John Mackovic left for Texas, really starts a true, sustained climb for Illinois Football.
And then we got fed to Urban and BOB. And now it’s hard to see six wins. And this now feels all too familiar.
Football Stuff May 14, 2013 6 Comments
I’ve decided to just go with two big posts. I missed lots of stuff while I was gone, some of which I want to write about, so I think I’ll just start writing. Football Stuff today, Basketball Stuff tomorrow.
The 2014 Big Ten schedule is going to be announced today. Except that it’s not. Barry Alvarez said it would be, and then the Big Ten said it wouldn’t. But it’s probably coming soon, so let’s talk about it.
First off, a moment of silence for the 2015 schedule. As you may recall, when the 2015 schedule was announced, and Zook was on his way out, I declared 2015 a Rose Bowl season, sight unseen. Wasn’t sure who the coach would be, and didn’t really know any of the players that would be on that team, but with this schedule, coming in the 4th year of the next coach’s regime, how could we not Rose Bowl? We’re Illinois. We lose 14 straight conference games and then we go to a BCS bowl three years later. It’s kind of our thing. Here’s the schedule that was going to take us there:
@ Penn State
The four toughest Big Ten games all at home. Road games at Purdue (winnable), Iowa (probably winnable), Indiana (winnable), and Penn State (they’ll be down to 65 scholarship players by then). 4th year… that schedule… ROSE BOWL.
And like that, it’s gone. To be replaced by, well, maybe something that’s not that bad after all. I’m assuming that 2014 and 2015 will be announced at the same time, and that they’ll be inverses of themselves. If we play Purdue at home in 2014, we’ll play them on the road in 2015. One rotation like that and then the nine game conference schedule begins in 2016. (Fun note: 2016, when we move to nine conference games, is the year that the final Guenther schedule balrog tail whip happens: a ROAD GAME at Western Michigan. He’ll have been gone more than five years and he’ll STILL be affecting our football program. Fly, you fools.)
Here’s what we know about the 2014 & 2015 schedule:
(East Team #1)
(East Team #2)
Depending on how the road/home games fall, that’s not that bad. And if we can avoid Michigan and Ohio State with those East games, we might even find ourselves with a schedule not too far from 2015. And this quote from Jim Delany suggests we just might avoid Ohio State and Michigan:
The strong majority view was that we not have assigned crossovers, so we could play each other as much as we could over a long period of time. Obviously, Indiana and Purdue have the Bucket game, it’s historic and we wanted to preserve that. It made Purdue comfortable going West, Indiana comfortable going East and it preserved that tradition. An awful lot of our rivalries could be taken care of through divisional play. If you look at the schedules, what you’ll see is over time, the crossovers rotate. In the first 18 years, you’re going to see a lot of competition between teams at the top of either division. We call that a bit of parity-based scheduling. You’ll see Wisconsin and Nebraska and Iowa playing a lot of competition against Penn State, Ohio State and Michigan.
So if that “parity based scheduling” starts right away, and you have to assume it would, it sounds like we won’t see Ohio State, Penn State, or Michigan in that first rotation. Which means we might see something like Indiana and Maryland. Which means a schedule of Nebraska, Minnesota, Iowa, Northwestern, Purdue, Wisconsin, Indiana, and Maryland is actually manageable. Which means maybe I need to put the 2015 Rose Bowl back on the table.
*looks at 14 game Big Ten losing streak and current recruiting*
Yeah, you’re right.
I kind of like this recruiting class so far. But man, do I hate how recruiting is going so far.
As I’ve mentioned before, I love offensive lineman Nick Allegretti on film. Like, my favorite high school film of an offensive lineman committed to Illinois since Graham Pocic. Seriously – go watch this. Kid’s a monster. He won’t get a lot of stars – when you verbal to Illinois early in the spring of your junior year, you’re just not going to climb any rankings – but I’m a huge fan. I’ve already (unfairly) put him on the “redshirt for a year and then maybe contribute right away as a redshirt freshman” list.
I also like defensive lineman Tito Odenigbo, and the Rivals national guys just had some great things to say about pocket-sized WR Mike Dudek at the Rivals Chicago camp. I’ve already nicknamed him, by the way. Throw it to Dude K. And have I mentioned I’m going to call Kendrick Foster “The People”?
I don’t know much about the QB who just verballed, Chayce Crouch (that’s blogger for “I watched some film and don’t really have many great things to say”). But the fact that we got a pocket QB to pair with Aaron Bailey makes me happy. So for this class (which will be a small one, by the way – probably 10 fewer players than the 2013 class), I’m OK with this start. Add the other OL I love (Tanner Farmer, who we offered yesterday after Missouri offered Monday), and I’m happy with the beginnings of this class.
But I really don’t like how recruiting is going. Namely, 4-star in-state kids staying home to play for… Northwestern. I can’t tell you how sick my stomach gets when a 4-star tailback like Justin Jackson picks Northwestern. Pat Fitzgerald is the 80′s high school movie villain (complete with the arrogance and the hair), so to watch him succeed is like seeing the jerk get the girl. But there’s not much I can say right now – in a 12 month span I’ve had to admit that he can REALLY coach and he can REALLY recruit. All that’s left is for him to steal my girl and frame me for cheating on the biology exam.
And, of course, the normal flow of talent out of the state continues. Three four-star tight ends head elsewhere in one day. An ESL linebacker picks Kansas. Ohio State and Michigan swoop in and hand pick whoever they want. Zook had somewhat repaired in-state ties, but now we’re an afterthought again.
We’ll have a small class this year – maybe 15 total recruits. And I understand that we have to slow-play things. This time last year, coming off a bowl season with a new coaching staff, we were picking up guys like Aaron Bailey and Jarrod Clements and Darius Mosely; this year, coming off 2-10, there’s been no late-spring surge. I think our theory is to show improvement on the field this fall, use that to sell to recruits in December and January that we’re on our way, and maybe close late on some talent.
But if Northwestern keeps this up (puke), and the in-state bleeding continues, there won’t be the typical December or January large official visit weekends. All of our targets will already be gone.
Lunt to Bailey?
I know, I already hate myself for typing it. Here I am, a guy who constantly replays the finding out of Aaron Bailey picking Illinois (“so I’m at the counter at Steak N Shake waiting to pay, wearing my softball jersey, standing on the tile floor in my cleats since I forgot my flip flops that day, and I figure I’ll flip through my phone and see if I have any emails when I see the email from my friend Carmen: Bailey to Illinois”), and I’ll always remember that Aaron Bailey was April 26th just like Juice was May 28th and Tez was December 21st and Rejus was November 9th, and now, only 13 months later, I’m already typing “Lunt to Bailey”? I’ve moved him to WR before I’ve ever seen him throw a ball in person?
Well, yes. Because I want to win football games. And Wes Lunt handing off to Dami Ayoola and passing to Aaron Bailey might just do the trick. What’s that? We’d still need a defense? LET ME DREAM without your “realistic” “expectations”, please.
So Lunt, the big-armed quarterback who started as a true freshman at Oklahoma State before getting injured, losing his starting job, losing the offensive coordinator who recruited him, and then falling behind the kid who replaced him while he was injured, has decided to leave Oklahoma State. And an ESPN article the other day said he’s considering five schools: Southern Mississippi (where his Okie State OC got the head coaching job), Vanderbilt, Louisville, Tennessee, and Illinois. Why Illinois? Because he’s from Rochester.
Do we have a shot? Well, maybe. Why? Because of Tracy Abrams and Nnanna Egwu. Lunt grew up just 75 minutes away from Champaign. And from what I remember when following his recruitment in 2011, the kid is an Illini basketball junkie. I remember thinking that our 2011 NCAA tournament run (and by “run” I mean “actually won a tournament game for the first time since Dee and Augie”) would benefit us in chasing Lunt. Here’s a few snippets from an old article from John Supinie back when we offered Lunt in 2011:
The 6-foot-6, 190-pound Lunt already has offers from Boston College and Southern Methodist, but he found the one from the Illini more exciting, considering he grew up as a big Illini basketball fan. Rochester coach Derek Leonard advised Lunt to call the Illini coaching staff and told the quarterback they might be offering a scholarship.
Lunt found it hard to believe while talking to coach Ron Zook, offensive coordinator Paul Petrino and defensive coordinator Vic Koenning, who recruits the Springfield area.
“I was nervous talking to coach Zook,” Lunt said. “You see him on TV all the time. You never think you’ll be talking with him on the phone.
“It was surreal. They said they were really excited about me, like what they see on film. They saw me play basketball and said I moved well. They’d love to have me. It means a lot.”
College recruiters usually don’t offer quarterbacks this early, Lunt said.
Lunt passed for 3,136 yards and 30 touchdowns with four interceptions last season while leading Rochester to a 14-0 record and the Class 4A state championship. He threw for 213 yards with one touchdown and one interception in the 24-7 victory over Rock Island Alleman in the title game.
Illinois wasn’t the first to offer, but it made a big impression.
“He’s a real poised kid,” Leonard said. “He doesn’t get excited about much, but he got real excited about this offer.”
So why didn’t he pick us back then? Well, the way I remember the story, it was a combination of Zook’s job security and the offense we ran in the Texas Bowl. His family wasn’t sure of two things: will Zook be there all four years (answer: no), and will this multiple spread offense that Petrino ran for Scheelhaase work for a pocket passer (answer: no). So despite growing up going to Illini football games (and the ability to attend any Illini basketball game he wanted), Lunt looked elsewhere.
Fast forward to today. Is the job security question answered? Probably not. Tim Beckman does have a contract that would run through Lunt’s final year of eligibility, but after last year’s debacle, I don’t think it’s possible to say the phrase “job security” with a straight face. Is the “offensive style” question answered? Absolutely. Bill Cubit would only need to show him film of Alex Carder or Tim Hiller (or his own son) at Western Michigan to show him what he could do in this offense.
Which brings us to Aaron Bailey, and the thing I’ve been hesitant to talk about since Cubit got the job. Is Bailey a fit for this offense? Maybe. He has the arm. But that 44% completion percentage in high school suggests that arm is a long way from refinement. Which means maybe Bailey becomes our Marquise Gray (Minnesota). Sometimes he’s the QB. Sometimes he’s a wideout. And all the time, he’s the best athlete on his team.
So I see two scenarios: Lunt picks Illinois, and we use Bailey as an all-everything guy. Wildcat formations. Goal line QB like the Bell-dozer at Oklahoma. Slot back. Wide receiver. Or, Lunt stays with his OC and picks Southern Mississippi, and we tailor the offense for a read-option QB who can hopefully develop into a poor man’s Braxton Miller.
Best scenario for Illini football? Probably Lunt to Bailey. So here’s hoping we get him. Maybe we can offer courtside Krush seats? Is that legal?
Unplugged May 13, 2013 7 Comments
I think this was the first time since 2002 (trip to Germany) that I went a full week with zero Illini news. Back then it was because I didn’t have any data access on my phone, and the place we were staying didn’t have wi-fi (and I didn’t own a laptop). Hmmm… I probably need to explain.
You see, kids, back in the days of Jon Beutjer, there wasn’t anything called (and I need you to feel my air quotes) “wi-fi”. We couldn’t use our “phones” to retrieve anything besides a phone call (there weren’t even texts yet!), so if you wanted to find out a “sports score” you would have to hope for a computer in the hotel lobby connected to the world wide internet.
While in Germany in 2002, I really wanted to go to Illiniboard.com and find out all the latest Illini happenings, I just couldn’t. Searching for an Internet cafe wasn’t on the agenda, and there was no (cheap) way to do that at the hotel, and cell phones were just cell phones, so I went a full week with no knowledge.
This time, it was by choice. You see, there are these things called “smartphones” that somehow work on remote beaches in the Virgin Islands, so if I wanted to find out if Darius Paul or Ahmad Starks picked Illinois, I could have. From the middle of a jungle somewhere in the Caribbean. (True story: we’re on a hike with our friends, hiking across St. John from a beach on the north to a beach on the south, somewhere in the middle of the National Park down there, deep in the jungle, and I’m using my wife’s iPhone to take pictures, and meeting notices for her work keep popping up on the screen. I mean, we are so incredibly connected.)
So for this trip, I avoided all information, both Illini and otherwise. We used her phone for a few pictures and my phone stayed in the room. NBA and NHL playoff serieseses? Had no clue – would just look them up when I got home. MLB scores? I’ll check the standings on Sunday. Illini recruiting news? Sunday as well.
This was difficult at first. Especially when I forgot to turn off Twitter notifications. We get back to the room that first Saturday night, and I check the phone to see if any of our kids sent a text (I mean, have to stay THAT much connected), and there was this Tweet on the front screen:
“See what happens when @alioneye leaves the country?”
See what happens? What happens?? WHAT HAPPENED???? I turned off notifications, and I didn’t look it up, but you better believe I was curious. Went to sleep that first night playing through scenarios instead of counting sheep. “If it was just Starks or Paul, this guy wouldn’t send this Tweet, right? It’s probably something more. People seem to associate me with football more than basketball, so maybe it’s a football thing. 4-star Darien Watkins picked Illinois maybe? Man, it would be awesome if Darien Watkins picked Illinois. WE NEED ATHLETES. But it’s probably basketball. Probably Starks or Paul. Hmmm… if we only have one available ride next year, then which one do I want? Starks for one year plus a 2014 recruit, or Paul for four years (redshirt plus three)?”
The next day was that hike from beach to beach, I think, and somewhere around halfway I forgot about the tweet. Didn’t really think about it very much during the week, to be honest. When I got that wicked sunburn on Tuesday and sat out Wednesday morning’s activities (pro tip: “waterproof” sunscreen isn’t really “waterproof”, at least when you’re snorkeling for an hour – that stuff will wash off quicker than you can say Simon Cvijanovic), I considered jumping on a message board or two with my free time (and wifi), but I didn’t. And for the rest of the week, I pretty much unplugged and forgot about everything. It was… great. Really great. Completely unplugged.
I made a deal with myself that I wouldn’t check anything until I was back stateside. So when our plane landed in Miami, and my wife ran to the restroom, I chose Dan’s front page at Illinois Loyalty as my catch-up point. Scrolled to the bottom and read up.
Darius Paul to Illinois. Looks like that was Saturday night (which means that’s what the tweet was referencing). And… MYKE HENRY TO TRANSFER?? What? (Still searching for confirmation on that one. Lots of “increasing likelihood” stories but I can’t find a single thing confirming anything.) Wisconsin will be a night game? FINALLY another Big Ten night game – five years is way too long. Neutral/neutral agreement with Oregon to play in Portland and then Chicago? I like it – we need some schedule strength, especially with that rumored tourney we’re going to play with the RPI-300 teams. Jerry Palm projected us in a bowl game? Best case scenario for the non-conference is 2-2, which means he thinks we can go 4-4 in the B1G, which is insane considering we’ve lost 14 straight conference games. At Georgia Tech in the B1G/ACC challenge? I like it – winnable game which might be an RPI top-100 road win. QB Wes Lunt is leaving Oklahoma State? Hmmm… this one will be interesting to follow. Although, having not read anything and just going by my gut (and maybe he’s already said this isn’t a possibility and I’m just not aware), when an offensive coordinator (who recruited that QB to OSU) leaves to take a head coaching job, and then that QB announces he is going to transfer, 79.4% of the time that QB follows that OC to the new location (in this case, Todd Monken at Southern Mississippi). So I’m going to guess he’s headed to Hattiesburg.
All in all, a pretty active news week for early May. This time of year, there’s usually not much going on, so that was a pretty good run. I’ll digest a few of those things in some posts later this week. Especially the Darius Paul thing. That’s big.
Oh, one other bit of news I forgot. 4-star ATH Darien Watkins picked… Northwestern. Pat Fitzgerald continues to be the villain in my movie. Face that makes you angry, takes credit for the brilliance of others, “game plan was flawless but the players didn’t execute” arrogance, and yet he gets the girl. Just someone please tell me that at the end of the movie he gets a milkshake dumped on his perfect hair.
OK, I think I’m all caught up. For this week, I need to monitor the Myke Henry situation, figure out where Darius Paul fits in the 2014/15 rotation, and try to understand why Jerry Palm would think that we’re going bowling. And back into several walls to scratch the itch of this sunburn.