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.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

New Kids On The Block: Getting To Know Rutgers and Maryland

     Effective July 1, the Big Ten Conference grew by two more teams to 14, a number that should be sufficient, at least for the time being.  The Scarlet Knights of Rutgers and the Terrapins of Maryland joined the ranks of the Big Ten, and with it, bring some storied history with them.  But how well do we know our new allies on the east coast?  Rutgers, which is in New Brunswick, New Jersey, is essentially in the metropolitan New York City area, a section of the country that the Big Ten has been wanting to tap into for quite some time.  The Scarlet Knights have been much more successful on the football field in the recent past than they have on the basketball court, something that rival teams in the conference do not want to hear.  The Rutgers football team, who is coached by Kyle Flood, finished the 2013 season at 6-7, including a 29-16 loss to Notre Dame in the Pinstripe Bowl at Yankee Stadium in the Bronx.

     Maryland, who hails from College Park, Maryland, is in suburban Washington, D, C,, another area that the Big Ten has been eyeing for several years.  The addition of both Rutgers and Maryland are a major reason that the conference is expanding their reach to take the Big Ten Tournament on the road, with the men's tournament scheduled for D. C, in 2017, and the possibility of Madison Square Garden in 2018,  The Terrapins, who are coached by Randy Edsall, finished 7-6 in 2013, and like Rutgers, saw their season end with a bowl loss, a 31-20 setback to the Thundering Herd of Marshall in the Military Bowl in nearby Annapolis, Maryland.  Maryland has a familiar face on its coaching staff, as Mike Locksley takes over as the offensive coordinator. Tom Brattan, who was not retained by Edsall, coached the offensive line at Maryland.  (more on Brattan later).

     With the start of fall training camp just a couple weeks away, Coach Tim Beckman is preparing his Illinois football team for the start of the 2014 season.  Beckman, who begins his third season at the helm of the Illini, is under close scrutiny, as he needs a greater level of success in order to see a fourth year, and that can be translated as getting to a bowl game.  Beckman saw his season start off on the wrong foot, as offensive coordinator A. J. Ricker left last week to take the same position at his alma mater, Missouri,  Ricker's departure was not the best in terms of timing, but you can't really fault him for wanting to pursue his dream job at the place where he played.  Tom Brattan, who had spent the past 13 years at Maryland coaching their offensive line.  The addition of Brattan makes this the fourth offensive line coach in four years for seniors Simon Cvijanovic and Michael Heitz.  They have seen Ricker (2013), Luke Butkus (2012) and Joe Gilbert (2011) during their tenure, and according to Brattan, he doesn't plan to go anywhere anytime soon.
"I have a reputation for staying in one place for long periods of time, as my recent tenure at Maryland shows", Brattan said on Wednesday, as he met the Illinois media for the first time as Illini offensive line coach.  Brattan previously coached at Northwestern in the mid to late 1990's, and wanted to make it known to young linemen like Nick Allegretti that he would be around for awhile.  "I told Nick and the other guys that I plan to be around a while, and they need to hear that, especially coming from me", Brattan said.

     Beckman also received some tragic news on Monday, as former lineman Shawn Afryl died of an apparent cardiac arrest after practice at Winona State University.  Afryl, who played in only one game for the Illini, in 2012, had received his degree from Illinois and transferred to Winona State to finish out his eligibility.  Beckman, who was visibly moved by Afryl's death, conducted a team meeting for anyone that wanted to talk about the situation.  "Anytime you have a death of a player, whether or not he is currently your player, it still hits home and he will always be part of the family", Beckman said.

     The Illini will begin the 2014 season with Big Ten Media Days in Chicago next week, with Cvijanovic, Jon Davis and Austin Teitsma representing the Illini this year.  Training camp gets underway on August 4th, with Camp Rantoul to follow a week later, beginning on August 11th,  The Illini open the 2014 regular season on August 30th when they host Youngstown State at Memorial Stadium for an 11:00 am kick/