Friday, November 7, 2008

Illinois Football: Consistently Inconsistent

I asked Whetst1 to write a post about Illinois football and the current state of the program. I figure if he can sit through 4 quarters of me yelling about Juice Williams being loose, he can write a blog post. Enjoy, F&BT fans...

Thanks, Buckingham, for the opportunity to post my perspective on the state of Illinois football. Having grown up 20 miles from campus (and living there again now), as well as going to games for over 30 years, I guess I am somewhat qualified. Actually, I could write a 20 page dissertation on the topic, but I doubt anyone would enjoy that. I can sum up my personal experience as an Illinois fan as 'consistent'...I have been there through thick an thin, suffering through the O-fer seasons...often cursing my parents for raising me 20 minutes from Champaign rather than Ann Arbor or Columbus. I can sum up Illinois football during that time as 'inconsistent'. Good years and bad years, rarely able to string together any year-over-year success. Obviously that does not make us unique in this conference... I do find it funny how quickly fans forget how bad their teams once were (or perhaps they are too young to remember). Building a consistent football program is like catching lightening in a bottle. Everyone thinks they just hired the next Barry Alvarez, but it rarely works out that way. Who knows if Ron Zook is the answer, but given the current state of the Illinois program, he is exactly what was needed. So where do I feel the program currently stands?

Talent - on the rise and appears it will be consistently good. Illinois continues to bring in top 30 recruiting classes, year over year, which is what it takes to build a program. You can't rely on a single great class, as there are too many ways for it to fall apart (see Illinois under Ron Turner, or more recently Iowa). As long as Zook is the coach, expectations will be high regarding recruiting. Zook also needs to be mindful of chemistry (yes, Buckingham...Cumberland broke LeShore's jaw over a dispute regarding a cell phone...I think they misunderstood when Zook said we needed to starting fighting like Penn State and Iowa). And finally, Zook needs to remember to look beyond the measurables and recruit some footballers...Martez Wilson has all the ability in the world, but doesn't seem to like to hit people or tackle...kind of important for a linebacker.

Consistency in Effort and Execution - work in progress. I don't think many of the fans I know are surprised at how this season is playing out. Coming off the Rose Bowl, losing the heart and soul of our defense, continuing to play numerous true freshman (I counted last week and at one point we had true freshman with him at both tackle spots, tight end, both wide outs, and both running backs)...explains some of the inconsistency in the present. Need one or two more years to find out if we can be consistent, without a significant drop-off from 1st to 2nd string.

Coaching - work in progress. Zook is not a game day coach (he shouldn't be allowed to do anything but motivate the team). He should hire an assistant to do nothing but manage the clock for him (when I win the lottery, I will be volunteering). Zook has hired a great group of recruiters, but only a handful of coaches. Our inexperienced coordinators make numerous bone-headed calls per game. As some of these assistants move on, hope is Zook fills the spots with some more experienced coaches rather than the on-the-job training.

Overall - Arrows are still pointing up. This is a fragile business and taking a step back in the right direction next year will be critical. It starts with Illinois finishing off this year with a win in a lower-tier bowl game. The schedule won't be easy next year, but the offense should be even better. If Zook can find some playmakers on defense, the pieces should be in place for a good year. Fall short of expectations next year, and we could be back on that slippery slope. 8+ wins with another bowl game and Zook has done his job, as far as I am concerned. But as a life-long Illini fan, I count no chickens...

1 comment:

  1. That's it, I am moving my family to Canada!