I really don't know where to begin here, so I'll just start at what I call the beginning, or maybe it is the end. Like the character Phil Connors in the movie Groundhog Day, this Illini football season seems to be repeating itself each and every day. It's like a dream that will never end, a story that has the same plot time and time again. No matter what the Illini seem to do, it always ends up being the wrong course of action. It has become so bad in Champaign that the Illini cannot even get out of their own way. Rewind to Saturday's game against the Indiana Hoosiers for a minute for a specific instance to the last comment. The Hoosiers decided to pooch punt to the Illini to back them up deep in their own territory. Instead of taking a bounce that the Hoosiers would down, the ball hits Russell Ellington, who had his back to the play, resulting in Indiana falling on the ball inside the Illinois 20 yard line. Plays such as these are indicative of how the season has gone for the Illini. In the 27-14 loss, Juice Williams didn't move the ball badly at all, but he had problems hanging on to the football, fumbling twice inside the red zone and foiling a golden opportunity to score each time. Plays like these, along with the personal foul penalties have long plagued the Illini, but the troubles go well beyond this.
So how did Illinois get so bad so fast? Ron Zook is like a broken record, saying things like "we are not playing the way we are capable of playing" and "we'll get down to basics and fix what is wrong". Well, how's that working for you, Ron? The Illini fan base is tired of hearing these promises, and changes are needed. First, Mike Schultz as offensive coordinator has got to go. When Mike Locksley left for New Mexico, the link between coordinator and quarterback was broken, and it is clearly evident that Schultz doesn't have a clue what is going on. Locksley has his own issues since he took the New Mexico job, and I think I would welcome him back in a second if given the chance, despite all of the problems he has endured. The offensive line also has regressed, and I believe that is a direct reflection on the coaching change at the position as well. When Tom Sims was shown the door before the season, they brought in Keith Gilmore, and the results so far speak for themselves. Not really sure what happened with the Sims situation, but it is clearly evident that the O-Line is not what it was. Finally, the university needs to address the athletic director position as well. Ron Guenther has made some good hires in his tenure, but since he prides himself on being a football guy, shouldn't he bring in someone who can win on a consistent basis? Is that too much to ask?
What we are looking at, I believe, is a Ron Zook deathwatch. The Indiana game appeared to be winnable, even after this train wreck of a season started barrelling out of control downhill. Now, what we are left with is the strong possibility of a 1-11 season, because looking at the schedule there doesn't appear to be any winnable games left. Purdue, the next Illini opponent, just upset Ohio State and are resurrecting their dismal start to mere respectability. After that, Michigan comes into Champaign and always plays the Illini tough in our house. Next the Illini go to Minnesota to play outdoors for the first time in Minneapolis. I really don't think it would matter if you played the game on Mars, the Illini don't stand a chance. Northwestern comes calling the week after, and they are probably the only real chance that the Illini have to somehow steal a win. The Illini will then close out the season with a couple of non-conference game, the first being the day after Thanksgiving at Cincinnati. The season will conclude on December 5th when the Illini welcome Fresno State to Memorial Stadium. Given the performance of the Illini this year, it will be stretching it to assume a crowd over 20,000 for that game.
For those of you that remember Monty Python, Now for something completely different.
Last Friday night kicked off the 2009-2010 basketball seasons for both the men's and women's teams at the University of Illinois. In an event that was marketed as "Spike The Record", the women's volleyball team preceded the basketball by hosting #6 Minnesota. The volleyball was exceptional, as the Illini beat the Gophers in 3 straight matches to improve their season marks to 14-3 overall and 6-2 in Big Ten match play. The event was targeted to set an attendance record for a volleyball match, but that fell quite a bit short, as only 7,632 were on hand to see the match. Early this week it was discovered that even if the Illini would have set the record, it wouldn't have counted because it was a shared event, and the record would qualify only if volleyball was the sole game being played. Once the volleyball was over and the court was cleared, it was time for Bruce Weber and Jolette Law's basketball teams to be introduced. There is excitement building for both programs, as each welcomes a top 25 recruiting class. On the men's side, freshmen D. J. Richardson, Joseph Bertrand, Brandon Paul and Tyler Griffey made their first appearance on the Assembly Hall court to raving applause. Maybe it was just a diversion from the sorry state of affairs across the street at Memorial Stadium, but nevertheless, the hoops action was still good. After the introductions, there was a shooting contest involving both programs, as well as a slam dunk competition from the men. I often wonder why they don't let the women scrimmage a little bit, especially this talented group of players. Coach Law brings in Karisma Penn, Adrienne Godbold, Amber Moore, Kersten Magrum, Brianna Jones, and the best of the lot, Destiny Williams into a program that is clearly on the rise. Only finishing the season with 8 players a year ago, Law has 14 players this time around, and joked at Media Day by saying that she had an abundance and wouldn't know how to coach that many players at once. Destiny Williams will be one of the most talented players to ever wear the orange and blue, and she should be a fun one to watch. The men should be equally fun to watch, as this group of freshmen can fly like a certain group that ended up being on one of the greatest teams in Illini history. No, I'm not saying that this band of freshmen are the next Dee Brown and company, but there hasn't been a recruiting class this much talked about since that group arrived.
So, despite the ineptness of the football team, with the start of basketball season brings renewed hope to Illini Nation. After what this fall has produced thus far, isn't that all that can be hoped for?