Previously, on Illinois Vs. Nice Things, Tim Beckman's team had clawed its way to a bowl against all odds, only to be doomed by two huge turnovers and the relentless assault of former Illini DL Houston Bates. Picking up around then...
Nice Things Illinois Had At The Beginning Of The Offseason; Updated for Week 2 of 2015.
Freshman All-American WR Mike Dudek (tore an ACL in March...is doing well in rehab...???)
Reilly O'Toole, Justin Duvernois, Austin Teitsma, Simon Cvijanovic, Matt LaCosse, Jon Davis, Donovonn Young (Graduated, though Cvijanovic hadn't yet finished with Illinois...Currently no evidence that Reilly O'Toole's Irish Pub does not exist, which is disappointing)
Dual-threat QB Aaron Bailey (transferred to Northern Iowa, where he appears to be part of a frightening 2-QB system that beat FCS powerhouse Eastern Washington in a shootout last week)
-Depth at RB with SR Josh Ferguson,
RS JR Devin Church (transferred to EIU), RS SO Kendrick Foster (has this guy...like...EVER actually seen the field?), 3-star FR Reggie Corbin (torn labrum; season), 4-star FR Dre Brown (ACL), JUCO transfer Henry Enyenihi and 4-star FR Ke'Shawn Vaughn.
Stalwart DT Teko Powell and veteran LB Mike Svetina returning from foot injuries that they both re-aggravated, requiring surgery
-The 6th best recruiting class in the B1G
A rare opportunity for positive press following signing day (Wasted and turned around by Tim Beckman calling a press conference to pout about the media in the aftermath of a positive accomplishment)
-A culture that emphasized
player accountability, academic success, teamwork and integrity fudging medical records and belittling injured players by having them wear Northwestern colors during practice apparently. It's not really a nice thing when current and former players get in Twitter beefs with each other.
-Stability and experience, entering
Tim Beckman's fourth year and the third year of the same schemes/coordinators on both sides of the ball with 49 juniors and senior on the roster (if Illinois does end up being halfway decent, this bullet point will go a long way towards establishing why. Beckman is not an X's and O's guy)
-Stud DE Jihad Ward
(foot/ankle injury in training camp) Returned for Week 1!
-High-accuracy football delivery system Wes Lunt, who seems to get a rap as an injury-prone reckless gunslinger. The first part rings true, as he's not yet shown he can last a whole season (played behind a disappointingly bad OL last year, but also wasn't good at feeling the rush and moving in the pocket to avoid hits; his pocket presence looks much improved so far). The second part I'm not so sure about. Though it was largely against weaker competition, his 21/3 TD:INT ratio last year was still very impressive. Decision-making is improving, but this offense demands that he make fast decisions and get the ball out in 2.5 seconds or so. Although he made a poor decision and threw straight to a linebacker last week, he made good decisions the rest of the game. I was there in 2007 when Juice threw 3 picks against Western Illinois. There's a big difference.
-Wideout Geronimo Allison, whose jump-ball skills make him a great target for Lunt. Expect some highlights from him this year.
-The whole defensive secondary, which could be the best we've had since 2007. All juniors and seniors, incidentally. If you played Illinois last year, you may remember thinking "why does my team's quarterback suck so much?" This group was quietly pretty respectable against the pass and got plenty of experience tackling backs who blasted past the line.
If all goes according to plan, all Illinois games will be on TV this year (Week 1; postponement due to lightning left this game without a broadcast crew)
QB WR Man Berg, who saw the field in Week 1
-Frosh DT Jamal Milan, who showed we can land good prospects from such faraway exotic places as CHICAGO
(injured week 1) should return week 3.
-A CERTAIN VENERATED PIECE OF HEADWEAR
-A head coach who doesn't make me cringe when he opens his mouth and doesn't stand on the sidelines with a constant "what the hell is even happening right now?" face on.
The 2005 NCAA Men's Basketball Championship, as ordained by destiny (Not only did Sean May receive Lebronesque treatment with respect to fouls, but this program was extremely cheating, as it was recently proven. GIVE US WHAT IS OURS. If there are any stops to be pulled out to beat UNC this weekend, I hope it happens)
Speaking of hooptyballs,
-A win at Michigan State despite two opening-day starters being suspended (my buddy and I unwittingly paid for this one karmically. After hurting myself on the nosebleed stairs at Breslin, I limped/hopped all the way back to a manual transmission car I then had to drive on a grade 2 ankle sprain. My buddy would roll his car the next day on I94 after hitting black ice going into a turn)
Some team chemistry and resilience (went out the window at Purdue and never came back)
Rayvonte Rice and Nnanna Egwu (graduated)
5th year senior PG Tracy Abrams (tore his Achilles; if he plays a sixth year, he will be 25)
A neat little European exhibition trip during which we went 1-3 and lost
PF/C Darius Paul, 2012/13 MAC Freshman of the Year, who got drunk and got arrested in France. I don't know if this is a nice thing or not because after burning 3 scholarship years on him we never got a single minute of game time.
PF/C Austin Colbert, who would have filled in for Paul except he transferred to Old Dominion
-Graduate transfer PG Khalid Lewis, mostly brought in so Jaylon Tate could play less than 40 minutes a game
5-star FR combo guard Jalen Coleman-Lands, who is still in a walking boot with a stress fracture
A chance to get any number of point guards, who apparently don't care how long you've been recruiting them if Michigan calls with an offer.
My Illinois Loyalty forum account permabanned after I posited that if Groce can't get the type of talent he needs to run his system, then the system needs to change. Among my 5 previous bans, one was for excessive use of the phrase "it's kind of a giggle now," which brings to mind "Tourette's Guy" grounding his son for not thinking the garbage disposal sounds like Chewbacca taking a shit. Unfavorable basketball commitments cause them to swing the banhammer around with reckless abandon over there.
-Does Matt Bollant still count? Yes, half the women's basketball team sued him for discrimination and he responded by firing an assistant, but our internal investigation cleared him!
Things That Are Not Nice But Are Still Things Illinois Has
Tim "Lasagna" Beckman, also known as Train Wreckman, also known as Coach Trips'n'Dip, also known as Todd Boeckman? A week before we were to kick off, we finally sent Timmy packing based on a preliminary report from an investigation into the claims that he oversaw the fudging of medical records and was generally responsible for very poor handling of injured players. Being realistic, the next head coach has much more depth to work with in a much more balanced roster than Beckman had when he took over for 2012, so I am grateful for what he brought to the program from that perspective. That being said, it is liberating to no longer feel the need to justify him as he shoves his buffoonery in my face every week. Unfortunately, it seems that our next coach will be hired by...
-Athletic director Mike Thomas, in whom I've lost much faith. I was able to defend him on the basis of what he's done for facilities, such as upgrades to Memorial Stadium, the new tailgate grove, and the renovation of the State Farm Center (formerly Assembly Hall), a beloved building and an icon of the campus that he saved from possible replacement by selling the naming rights for a huge sum to a locally-headquartered company. However, his three major coaching hires, all made in the same season, have been disappointing at best. John Groce wins press conferences, but only has one NCAA tournament appearance in three years. Pretend all you want that Illinois Basketball was only briefly a thing, but the last time we missed the tournament 2 years in a row without explicitly being banned from the tournament was 1974. Matt Bollant failed to make anyone care about the women's basketball program. The good news is that people care now; the bad news is that they care because of allegations that Bollant and his staff were absolutely horrible to players he did not recruit and did everything he could to drive them off. Tim Beckman was a master of embarrassing himself and the university, and though he did indeed go 2-4-6 in wins and assemble a deep and balanced roster this year (not to mention he brought in Bill Cubit), his off-field persona couldn't have possibly been received any worse. Sure, there could have been drugs or hookers, but I don't think Beckman has the social skills to buy drugs without getting shot, and hookers don't generally like to get paid in lasagna. These were Mike Thomas' big time hires and he struck out on two, while Groce is in there fouling off pitches on a 1-2 count. However, Mike Thomas has some job security because we also have...
-Vacancies in the Provost and Chancellor chairs. Both were dismissed in late August due to a minor scandal involving using personal email for university business to avoid a paper trail; this was really just the last straw. I don't feel like elaborating, as my beloved University is now making me sad. Fortunately, the engineering school pretty much runs itself.
-An uninspiring-at-best kicking battle between Tayler Zalewski and David Reisner, in such a dead heat that they are listed as co-starters. Penn State fans might remember Reisner punishing James Franklin for punting on 4th and 1; Northwestern fans might remember him for the worst FG attempt I've ever seen
-Due to "parity-based scheduling," we have to play Ohio State yet again. Is Jim Delaney trying to make 2007 happen again? Does anybody besides Illinois fans want 2007 to happen again? NASCAR has spent years trying to make its season end as dramatically as 1992's and all they've done is make a format that selects a champion more arbitrarily than college football in the 1800's. I'm not saying Rutgers, Maryland or Indiana would be gimmes, but I'd feel much better about Wes Lunt's ability to survive those games.
-No way to know whether or not any of our improvements are tangible. That changes on Saturday.
in Conclusion: The tire fire is at the very least contained for now, and thanks to Rutgers nobody's paying attention to the turmoil in our athletic department anymore. It might not seem like much, but two consecutive highly enjoyable Illinois football games is a significant accomplishment at this point.