Sometimes the easiest decisions are the most difficult to make.
Faced with the fact that their starting quarterback, Wes Lunt, is sidelined with a fractured fibula, the Fighting Illini have turned to a tandem quarterbacking system for this week's Homecoming game against Minnesota (11:00 am CT, ESPNU).
However, all of the coaches do not necessarily agree with the decision. As the Illini come off of their first bye week of the season, head coach Tim Beckman is willing to try just about anything to get his team a win and in the process, possibly saving his job by season's end. In this, his third season at the helm in Champaign, Beckman has managed to win only one Big Ten game in 19 tries.
Beckman used the bye week to give his players a much needed break, and also to heal up some of the bumps and bruises that have been plaguing his team so far this season. The best reason for the bye was that Illinois couldn't lose this past week, since they didn't play. Harsh, I know, but the facts are nonetheless facts, and this is not a good team right now and without Lunt, it remains to be seen just how good they really are. Reilly O'Toole is the senior and the veteran, but does he have what it takes to lead Illinois to a victory? Aaron Bailey is the more mobile of the two quarterbacks, and his performance against Wisconsin two weeks ago gave Illini fans hope that maybe, if pressed into the same situation this week from a starting perspective, that he could possibly be the one. Lunt will probably miss the next two games, and then there is another bye week in there, so the earliest that he could return to action would be November 15th, when Illinois faces Iowa. Who knows what the situation will be come that time, but if the Illini are still searching for a win when the Hawkeyes come to town, then the question begs do you even bother bringing Lunt back at that point?
Illinois volleyball is on a roll as of late, having reeled off three straight match wins, two of those being against nationally ranked opponents. Having defeated #5 Penn State in State College, the Illini had a mid-week contest at Iowa, and came away with a 3-2 win. Then, the Illini went into Lincoln on Saturday night and took down the #13 Cornhuskers 3-1. Having defeated both Penn State and Nebraska, two perennial powers in women's college volleyball, on the road in the same season, is something that just doesn't happen very often at all. The Illini, ranked #10 in the latest AVCA poll, will return home to Huff Hall this weekend to battle Indiana on Friday night (7:00 pm CT, No TV) and then #13 Purdue on Saturday evening (5:00 pm CT, BTN). The Illini are currently 14-5 overall and 6-2 in the Big Ten heading into this weekend's matches.
The Fighting Illini women's soccer team has hit the wall lately, where in their last five games, they have managed to lose four of them and get one tie. This past weekend, the Illini traveled east to battle the two newest conference foes, Rutgers and Maryland. On Friday, the Illini lost 2-1 to the #14 Scarlet Knights, but came back on Sunday to tie Maryland 1-1 in double overtime. Coach Janet Rayfield knows that tying a match isn't a big deal to many, but to her squad, it could be just what they need to get into postseason play. "We might need that extra point that we received for the tie, and if it comes down to us getting in the Big Ten Tournament by a point, we will look back at this as a positive", Rayfield said of the tie with Maryland. The Illini are currently 9-6-1 overall and 4-5-1 in conference play, and welcome Michigan State to Champaign Friday night (7:00 pm CT, No TV) and Michigan on Sunday afternoon (1:00 pm CT, No TV).
Finally, it would be remiss if I failed to mention the fact that Wayne McClain's passing last week took me by surprise, much as it did everyone else, including his family. Having covered Illinois basketball through the Bill Self and Bruce Weber regimes, I got to know Wayne fairly well. The kind words that have been conveyed over the past few days I can totally relate to, and you will not meet a more genuine man than Wayne was. Godspeed Wayne!