Wow, welcome back. B1G 2021. How the hell.
We’re on Year 11—or is it 12—of previewing each Big Ten team, week-by-week, from a point in mid-May through August.
Dive back into the OTE Archives, and you’ll see the first time “we” ever did this, Jonathan Franz began with Bill Lynch-era Indiana. The Hoosiers have moved on to bigger and better things—though the subsequent preview subject, Michigan, has returned to that level—but just a week later, on March 28, we learned that the Illinois Fighting Illini had gone 3-9 (2-6) and needed to replace Juice Williams, find a new Arrelious Benn, and fix a leaky defense.
Ron Zook went 7-6 (4-4) that year and beat Baylor in the Texas Bowl, for whatever it’s worth.
There’s really no point to that story. It’s 2021 and the Zook Era is a distant memory.
Instead, it’s time for the Bielema Era.
I don’t get it either.
With Jeff Monken staying in West Point, Jim Leonhard unwilling to leave a cushy next-in-line job in Madison, Lance Leipold apparently settling for Lawrence, and Luke Fickell laughing his ass off at one Illini rube’s suggestion he be the next Illinois coach, the Orange and Blue settled for a Big Ten retread. And boy, it is a helluva tread.
How every Midwestern Potluck starts: “Salad”
Look, we all have some COVID weight to lose, and my original conceit here was something twice-baked (in honor of Bert’s second crack at the B1G), like a crouton...which led to salad...which led to the usual question I ask for potlucks: what the fuck does Illinois (or the Midwest) have to do with salad?
Turns out...a lot?
Apparently there’s a claim that an Italian cook named an Italian cook in Chicago—if you can believe that!—named Giacomo Junia invented Caesar salad in 1903. I read that, thought, “Eh, OK,” and kept digging. Learned about something called the Blackhawk Restaurant’s Spinning Salad, in which a fancy jazz club became renowned for spinning salads table-side or something. I don’t know. It’s in Chicago, though, which is decidedly Northwestern Michigan State probably Purdue? country, so that’s out. There’s this, too, and now I’m just confused.
One more Google search:
Another story claims that Miracle Whip was invented in Salem, Illinois, at Max Crosset’s Cafe, where it was called “Max Crossett’s X-tra Fine Salad Dressing”, and that Crosset sold it to Kraft Foods in 1931 for $300 (equivalent to $5,000 in 2019). While stating that Kraft did buy many salad dressings, Tousey disputes the claim that X-tra Fine was Miracle Whip. [link]
Absolutely fucking perfect.
Honestly, writers, I’ve lost track of what we’re doing here, so riddle me this:
 Tell me your unhealthiest Midwestern salad recipe. Bonus points for mixing jello with a meat of some kind.
Candystripes: I don’t have a personal recipe for this, but years of hanging around this place have told me that a Snickers Salad exists, and includes no actual healthy food items. That counts, right?
BoilerBettor: Growing up, I ate my fair share of fruit salads. No idea what all went into some of them but I distinctly remember some sort of whipped cream/marshmellow/jello combination with a couple cans of mixed fruit and some chopped apples. I’m sure it’s part of the reason for my family history with Type-2 diabetes.
Beez: For me, it can’t possibly get more Midwestern than a giant bread bowl salad smothered in ranch from Perkins.
WSR: My family’s hot German potato salad seems innocuous enough (potatoes, vinegar, onion, bacon, some spices), but...my Mom decided to triple the amount of bacon in it. I feel like that earns it a spot on here.
Kind of…: Been a long time ago, but probably what passed for “potato salad.” That it had Miracle Whip instead of real mayo only made it more unhealthy given how processed and hellish Miracle Whip is.
HWAHSQB: My Mom regularly made a pea, shredded cheese, bacon, green onion, mayo concoction that we brought to potlucks. I mean, bacon, cheese, and mayo doesn’t really scream salad, but it was tasty.
MNW: Yes, since Candystripes mentioned it, a Snickers Salad is my go-to:
- Tub of Cool Whip
- Package of vanilla pudding, mixed to instructions
- 1 bag Mini Snickers, each bar quartered
- 1 Granny Smith apple, cubed.
Mix. Serve cold. If needed substitute Fudge Striped cookies for the Snickers. (I don’t know why Mom did that, but we still called it Snicker Bar Salad.)
Which salad are you reaching for?
This poll is closed
Snicker Bar Salad
Hot German potato salad, extra bacon
HWAHSQB’s pea-and-mayo salad
I’ll give you MY recipe in the comments!
Oh right, football. GRADING BERT
Let’s start getting a sweaty grip on the BERT Era of Illinois football. He’s promising shored-up in-state recruiting and brought in well-traveled and flexible OC Tony Petersen—who we’ll get to in more depth tomorrow—along with a new-look 3-4 defense. Then again, this happened:
an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty HERE COME THE FUCKIN #ILLINI, Y'ALL— Off Tackle Empire (@offtackleempire) April 20, 2021
So let’s dispense with the salads and start with some bread and butter—goddamnit I’m hungry: This morning, Thump noted that “It would be hard to do any worse than Lovie Smith did, but Bret Bielema doesn’t have the luxury of Chris Ash Rutgers...to provide wins in Year 1.”
Grade the Bielema hire for Illinois, and suggest what his ceiling is in Champaign (perhaps along with how he gets there). Bonus: Tell me the best FBS head coaching hire of the offseason.
Candystripes: Look, I’ll be the first to admit that I don’t like Bret Bielema on a deeply personal level. On that same personal level, I hope that Illinois doesn’t get utterly buried by all the #karma that man has earned over the years. But honestly? Illinois probably made the best football hire they could have.
Let’s be clear about one thing here: the Fighting Illini football program is not in the best shape it’s ever been in, and they’re not going to convince an A level football coach to walk into Champaign and immediately turn this thing around. You accept that Bert’s got some baggage, you get a couple of nice recruits who decide it’s worth taking the chance, and suddenly you find yourself picking up something like 7-8 wins a year for a while, maybe peaking at 10 if everything goes your way in a down year for a lot of the West Division. And if for whatever reason Bret’s not the answer? You’ve probably kicked this can down the road 4 or 5 years at worst, some mid-major hotshot is probably ripe for the picking, and you haven’t stuck a dagger in the heart of the program.
BoilerBettor: I’VE BEEN ON KETO THE PAST 9 MONTHS, WHY ARE WE TALKING ABOUT ALL THESE FUCKING CARBS?
As far as Bert to Illinois, it’s hard to get much worse than Illinois’ last few hires. I’m sure he’ll come in, fuck some shit up and manage to get to 8-9 wins in a couple of years.
Beez: I think Bielema is a decent hire for Illinois. They’re not gonna be good, but I think they’ll be notably better than they ever were with Lovie.
MNW: Slot me in at a B- with a note to revise and resubmit for further credit. I think Bert’s saying the right things, here, about having grown as a coach, wanting to recruit Illinois well, and changing up the 3-4 a little to adapt to the game...but this reeks of Whitman wanting a guy who had connections to Illinois, like he does, and who’s a “football guy”. Whitman’s got two other collegiate coaching hires. One’s a hard-nosed coach who came in, posted a .320 winning percentage, and left to become an investment banker after alienating the team. That’s at UW-La Crosse. The other is Lovie Smith. At some point, uh…
I still think Willie Fritz (for a curveball) or Chris Creighton (who took the fucking Kansas job) was the answer, but I don’t know who applied to Illinois and what kinds of pitches they made. Maybe Bert’s as good as it gets. And, in my class, “as good as it gets” for the room’s dunce, as long as they try, tends to be about an 80. So congrats, Illinois — you’re above “Cs get degrees” territory.
Side note here: A big ol’ “Fuck you” to Marshall for firing Doc Holliday, the 2020 C-USA Coach of the Year. Their fatass [/nopolitics] governor stuck his sweaty fupa on that scale, I’m sure.
I think Utah State got a winner, taking Arkansas State’s Blake Anderson. Anderson’s been through a ton of personal tragedy, making it a little tougher to grade his last couple years in Jonesboro, but I think he’ll bring an intriguing brand of football to Logan that’ll be competitive in the Mountain West in no time.
WSR: I honestly have no idea what the ceiling for the Illini is under Bert. As their Chicago neighbors have proven, you don’t have to be very good to win the West. So does that mean Illinois can win multiple division titles without actually playing football? Maybe. They do get to play Nebraska every year, so that’s always a great place to get a win.
But the 2nd part of the question...ummmm...holy hell have there been a ton of terrible coaching changes this offseason.
I’m pretty confident that UCF hiring Gus is not going to be mentioned as the best. And the less said about Arizona’s hire the better. Fuck that guy. He’s got no business being a QB coach, let alone a head coach. And he’s the worst OC I have ever seen. EVER. So let’s just take a moment to congratulate Auburn on dicktripping into hiring Bryan Harsin. Boise coaches don’t always work out in the SEC long-term (DOES YOUR PROGRAM NEED SOME HEPPIN’? HIRE COACH NUTT!), but he feels like a good one.
Green Akers: Sweaty grip, eh. So we’re really just diving into this.
But look, on paper the hire is probably a B, and only that low because apparently Kansas was able to convince Lance Leipold to take the last seat in this year’s game of musical coaches, so you have to think Illinois could have had him.
There’s a whole generation of as-yet-unproven commodities in his division: Brohm, Frost, and to a much lesser extent Fleck really don’t feel like the guaranteed obstacles I thought they’d be when each was respectively hired. Even if Bielz climbs over that pile, it would take a series of successes in recruiting, staff hires, and player development that are hard to project all coming up Illinois. But even at the top, the B1G West ain’t exactly the SEC West - a successful Bertinois probably tops out around 9 wins, with 8 being your more likely scenario.
Kind of…: Buckle in, but I’m saying Bielema is the best coaching hire of the offseason.
He’s been humbled (a bit), he knows the B1G well, and won’t be reliant on a gimmicky offense. Zook got Illinois to a Rose Bowl and Bielema is a much better coach (though not quite the recruiter). Honestly, it is downright embarrassing, offensive even, how dumb Illinois has been over the years when it comes to hiring coaches. Mike White and John Mackovic each had major college HC experience and had really good tenures. Since then, the only time they’ve hired a guy with P5 experience was Zook.
Illinois isn’t quite a sleeping giant, but Bielema is going to be fine there. Hell, his third year at Arkansas, they almost finished 2nd in the SEC West. It went bad in a hurry, but people are really overlooking his overall track record.
Illinois under Bielema will be akin to Minnesota under Kill: unexciting but competent (though any Bielema health scares will have different causes). This year is lost, but next year they’ll pull a big upset, and in 2023 make noise. Look at their 2023 schedule: https://fbschedules.com/ncaa-2023/team/illinois. Beat either PSU or UW at home and that’s 9 wins.
[Whipped cream container slips out of hand and clatters on floor.] Wait, what happened?
HWAHSQB: Illinois hasn’t done well at hiring football coaches. I’m not excited about Bert, but whatever. We had no chance of being good under Lovie. There is a chance Bert will get the job done. There’s also a chance he will pull a Larry Eustachy, but whatever. We’ll spin the wheel and get another random coach that everyone will laugh at.
GRADE THE BERT HIRE
This poll is closed