Two Steps Forward.......Three Steps Back.

Two Steps Forward.......Three Steps Back.
The rebuild of the Illinois football program continues as they drop a tough 34-31 loss in overtime to Purdue.

Friday, November 16, 2012

     No offense, but I am almost glad that this Illinois football season is about over.  I actually could have stopped that sentence after the first two words, because the lack of offense this season is much of the reason why the Illini are 2-8 overall and in the basement of the Big 10.  The latest setback was a 17-3 loss to the Minnesota Golden Gophers, who became bowl eligible with the win.  The Illini offense, in a word to describe it, has been anemic lately, and with the apparent infighting within the coaching staff on who calls plays on which downs, something besides the players on the field could be some cause for blame.  It was brought out in the open last week that there are some coaches that may not be returning next season, and that ultimately falls on Tim Beckman, who hired them.  I know that the Illinois football job isn't one of the most coveted, but you still need to get coaches in here that can work well with the head coach.  It could, ultimately, come down to players, because this season shows that the last two years of the Ron Zook era didn't produce the best recruiting classes.  The Illini, desperately seeking a win any way that they can, will lace 'em up again on Saturday in the home finale against the Purdue Boilermakers (2:30 pm CT, BTN).  The Boilers haven't exactly been a success story this season, but they are 4-6 overall and 1-5 in the Big Ten, and still have a legitimate shot at a bowl berth with a win over the Illini on Saturday and a win against Indiana next weekend.  The Illini are a dismal 2-8 overall and still winless in the Big Ten at 0-6.  Nobody expected to see what is transpiring this season, and who knows what the future will hold?  Of the 20 seniors playing their final game at Memorial Stadium this weekend, quite a few of them have aspirations of playing in the NFL, so the lack of talent for next year's team will not bode well for wins, as the schedule gets a whole lot tougher when Nebraska comes onto the schedule.  Just take a wait and see approach, I guess.

     The John Groce era at Illinois is off to a good start, with the Illini getting out to a 2-0 start with early wins over Colgate and St. Francis (NY).  The Illini defeated the Terriers of St. Francis 89-64 on Monday evening at the Assembly Hall, as senior Tyler Griffey led the Illini with 17 points, which was one point off his career high.  Already two games into the Groce era, this teams looks markedly different than it did under Weber last year, although most of the cast of characters are the same.  The next few games will tell a lot about what this year's team will look like, as the Illini head to Hawaii to play four games on the islands of Hawaii and Maui.  The first game will be on Friday evening, when the Illini take on the Rainbow Warriors of Hawaii (11:30 pm CT, No TV, however the game will be streamed online for free at  Following the game against Hawaii, the Illini will hop islands and play in the EA Sports Maui Invitational starting on Monday evening against the USC Trojans (11:00 pm CT, ESPN2).  This will be a good early season test for the Illini, and the first time that they have played away from home this season.  Groce also landed a great first recruiting class, inking five players for the class of 2013.  The Simeon duo of Kendrick Nunn and Jaylon Tate headline the class, as well as Malcolm Hill, Maverick Morgan, and Austin Colbert to round it out.  With this recruiting class being nationally ranked, the Illini are once again on the way up and success could be headed back to Champaign sooner than later.  Stay tuned.

     Along the same lines as the men's basketball team, the Illini women also have a new coach, and the Matt Bollant era is officially underway in Champaign, with similar results.  After opening the season with a win 84-52 over Evansville last Sunday, the Illini welcomed Bradley to the Assembly Hall and couldn't match the Braves' quickness, falling 83-77 behind another monster game by Karisma Penn.  Penn led all scorers with 29 points and grabbed 16 rebounds, but it wasn't enough as the Illini fell to 1-1 on the season.  The Illini will continue non-conference action on Sunday afternoon when they host Cleveland State (2:00 pm CT, No TV).

     The season appears to be winding down for the Fighting Illini women's volleyball team, and the possibility of postseason play is all but a memory now.  With no margin for error now, the Illini welcome Michigan State and Michigan to Huff Hall for their final home matches of the season.  Michigan State comes in on Friday night (7:00 pm CT,, while the Wolverines visit Champaign on Saturday evening (7:00 pm CT, No TV).  The Illini lost both matches on their recent swing to the eastern part of the Big Ten, losing 3-0 at Penn State, and then falling at Ohio State in 5 games.  With the Illini currently sitting at 11-15 overall, but just 5-11 in the Big Ten, they need to win out this weekend and next to even have a chance to qualify for the NCAA Tournament.  Strength of schedule may actually help them, but if they don't get four wins in the last four matches, then the point is moot.

     Finally, the Fighting Illini women's soccer team is enjoying postseason play, and will travel to coach Janet Rayfield's alma mater of North Carolina to face the Tar Heels on Friday evening  (5:30 pm CT).  The Illini survived Missouri in Columbia, winning on penalty kicks to advance to the next round.  The Illini come into the match with the Tar Heels at 10-8-4 overall, while North Carolina, ranked #13 in the country, are 11-5-2.

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