Ask Paul and Bob your questions about Illini sports.
Hi, devoted chatters. Welcome back to another News-Gazette questionathon. I'm here in the office and Klee is at the Lincoln Memorial, getting ready for tonight's Illinois-Maryland basketball game.
We've got a great set of questions, so let's get to them.
With Ford on board now, is this a signal to us that Hodge is out? Anymore RB recruiting to be done this season? Thanks.
I don't think Jason Ford's decision will have an impact on Deries Hodge. I think Illinois wants both guys on campus, plus Mikel Leshoure. I think they figured out this year that you can't have too many good running backs on campus, especially with the way they want to run the offense.
If Rashard Mendenhall decides to go pro early, which is a possibility, then Illinois will have multiple options at tailback. And I think the coaches like the idea of the two-back set, which is the formation they used when Daniel Dufrene had his long run/fumble against Ohio State. More of that could be in the offing.
Obviously, Rashard Mendenhall is a great player. But Illinois is setting itself up to thrive after he's gone.
Bob, I know it's early but where will Illinois be ranked next year in the pre-season?
Paul, Will Illinois use it's last 08 schollie and are there any shooting guard prospects left that are worthing using that schollie on?
I think a lot depends on how Illinois does in the bowl game. If Illinois wins against say, Florida, it will finish in the Top 10 this season. When voters decide preseason polls they look at two things: previous year finish and number of returning starters, especially key guys (quarterback, receivers, tailbacks, stars on defense). Give Illinois a win in the bowl and no major defections other than Rashard Mendenhall and I'd say No. 7 going into next season.
Of course, that ranking will get a test immediately from a team that will be ranked even higher, Missouri. The Tigers should be preseason top five next year if Chase Daniel returns.
The Illini would like to get a SG/wing-type player in the spring, possibly a junior college player. Whether they're worthy of a scholarship, I don't know, but if they get an offer, the staff probably thinks they're worthy.
Do you think changing circumstances such as their now no big deal, exclusive TV contract with NBC,and an increasingly unattractive/noncompetitive schedule(Duke, Army, Navy...Please), could drive Notre Dame back to the bargaining table with the Big Ten? If not, do you think attitudes are shifting at all towards adding some other school so we can join the conference playoff system?
All good points. Should Notre Dame consider joining the Big Ten? Absolutely. It would be a great geographic fit, add to the conference from a football standpoint and be a help to Notre Dame in all other sports. I understand the desire of some Notre Dame people to stay independent, but another bad season or two in football and they might actually admit that time has come to join a league. Penn State liked its independence too, but realized the Big Ten would enhance the school both athletically and academically. Notre Dame is in the same position, though it has more power because of the NBC contract. If NBC decided to get out, it would almost force Notre Dame into a league.
And though the Big Ten postures like it is done with Notre Dame, don't believe it. If the Irish came to the league and asked in, it would take about four seconds to make it happen.
I think a 12th team, split into divisions and have a playoff game would be great for the Big Ten. Look at all the attention and revenue it generates for the Big 12, SEC, ACC, etc. The Big Ten is missing out on the fun and costing its teams a competitive edge. If not Notre Dame, then somebody else.
This one is for Bob and Paul, two opinions for the price of one. Do you think the ACC/Big Ten challenge is good for the league anymore? At this point it just supports the recruit who says they would rather play against better talent level and a more open style of play in the ACC. (Big East is better)
I think the Big Ten would look bad if pulled out of the Challenge. And I don't think it hurts the league to get beat. It's one game and if you look at it this year, the matchups are favorable toward the ACC. Where's Miami? Why didn't Indiana draw a better team? Wouldn't Wisconsin have had a good chance to win against any other school? Why didn't Michigan State draw a better team, leaving NC State for someone else? To me, any time you can play games against a great league, it's all good. It doesn't matter if you win or lose. Plus, it's huge for the league RPI.
No, I don't think the ACC/Big Ten Challenge is good for the Big Ten. Not at all. Not when the Big Ten is getting whitewashed every season. They might say the exposure is a positive, but I just don't see it. The Big Ten's slide this season isn't an isolated event. The ACC/Big Ten Challenge underlines the league's struggles, but these are postseason struggles too. I wrote today the Big Ten has had one prolific NCAA tournament over the last four. It had one Sweet 16 team in 2004, three in 2005, zero in 2006 and one in 2007. In that context, the 2005 tournament looks more like a fluke than the norm. The Missouri Valley has had three times as many Sweet 16 teams over the last two tournaments than the Big Ten. If I'm the Big Ten, I get out of this thing and quickly. These numbers aren't meant to beat up the Big Ten -- I enjoy watching the Big Ten and as a beat writer there is not a better league to cover. But at the moment the gap is wide. That could change, as it looks like recruiting in the Big Ten is on an upswing. But I think the days of a 10-6 and 9-7 Big Ten teams getting at-large bids -- barring a standout nonconference season -- won't carry the same weight in March as it has in the past.
With the new running back commitments of Leshoure and Ford and the possible return of Mendenhall in conjunction with Dufrene and Pollard does this mean the football team is giving up on Deries Hodge? I have heard that he still may not qualify? It was once thought that he would be on campus in January. Is this still possible?
I'm trying to find out Deries Hodge's status, but information is difficult to come by. The coach at Milford Academy is tight-lipped about his players and the Illinois coaches can't comment.
There are some academic issues, but Illinois definitely has not given up on him. While you can't eliminate him from a January enrollment, my guess is he will likely have to finish the school year at Milford.
Ford's commitment doesn't really have any impact on Hodge. The Illinois coaches want to have a strong class of running backs in 2008.
Hey guys, I'm an Illini grad from Mahomet that has had to suffer through ten years of ACC suffering living in Raleigh... Wife went to Carolina and it gets worse from there..
When and how are we going to win one of these challenges??
Hi Matt, I can imagine what it must be like in Carolina country. But at least in Maui the Illinois fans were equal -- and quite a bit noisier -- than the ACC fans from Duke. The semifinal matchup in Maui was more competitive than the score indicated, and one of the best environments for a college basketball game I've seen. (Think we had Duke at No. 4 in our AP Top 25 ballot this week. They look like a Final Four contender from this vantage point.) As far as the Challenges, I do think the Big Ten is catching up in terms of recruiting and that should pay off in the future. But as I said above, the gap is cavernously (is that a word?) wide and has been for the better part of the last four, five years.
Jack Daly, a good friend, covers UNC hoops for the Durham Herald-Sun. Very good beat writer. Look him up, Matt, you'll enjoy his work, even though it's Carolina. Thanks for the question.
Two names. Deries Hodge and Anthony Morris. Do any of these two step foot on campus? Thanks.
I believe there is a chance both could be on campus. Of course, it's possible that neither will ever play at Illinois. I know both players want to come to Illinois and both have the talent to play at a high level.
Deries Hodge had an unusual high school experience, going to four places in four years. He is trying to overcome that experience to play at Illinois. I really think he'll thrive if he makes it to campus because of the academic support available. Same goes for Anthony Morris.
Another Thornton player, Craig Wilson, didn't make it academically out of high school. But he went to a prep school, became eligible and has a bright future with the Illini.
Bob, What's the story with Jason Ford and Russell Ellington? I thought both were Iowa recruits, but now are Illini commits. How solid is Ford? I read he committed and recommitted in October to Iowa.
Both players apparently felt more comfortable with the Illini than with the Hawkeyes. That's exactly what Jason Ford said to me when we talked Monday. He has been to the Illinois campus five or six times and I can't imagine him changing his mind again. With a successful season, it's very easy for Illinois to retain kids. Or pull kids away from other schools.
I haven't talked to Russell Ellington, but I do know that his teammate Supo Sanni had to play a part in the decision. Sanni is coming here and is fired up about it.
I think the Illinois coaches are going about this the right way. They aren't pushing the kids who are committed to other schools, but they are presenting options.
Iowa's struggles on the field have helped the Illini in recruiting. The Hawkeyes are likely going to get left out of the postseason.
I know we had a few "sell-outs" this year for a few football games. What happens next year when seating capacity is increased by 20,000? Do you expect the team to continue to sell out the stadium? What is the mood locally in that regards? Also, they need to modernize the concession stands as they are leaving a lot of money on the table as it is so hard to get food due to crazy lines, limited choices, etc.
Seating capacity is only going up to about 62,000, so it won't be difficult to keep selling the place out. First, I think people are going to want to see the new building. So that adds to the interest. Illinois couldn't have timed this better. The team is playing well and will be expected to contend for a Big Ten title next season. They've got Iowa and Ohio State coming to Memorial Stadium, which always mean extra outside fans. I'll be real surprised if Illinois doesn't sell out the season, even with 5,000 more seats.
Nobody has said yet what the school is going to do about the horseshoe season tickets. A smart idea, in my mind, would be to raise the price only a big, maybe up to $15. The renewal rate at that price will be close to 100 percent.
If Ron Zook is able to keep this thing going for a few years, there will be a push to add capacity to the stadium. The school has set it up so that will be fairly easy to do. But it won't happen unless the on-field product warrants it.
The concession stands will continue to get upgraded. Nobody wants that more than the guy in charge, who has all sort of ideas on how to make it a better atmosphere. This year was a mess because of the construction, but it should be fixed for 2008.
Also, Been wanting to thank you for the GREAT job you do on the PodCast. I listen to it every week. Do you know how many people download it from outside the Illinois home territory?
Thanks for the kind words about the podcasts. We enjoy doing them too.
We don't know where the people are downloading them from, but we do know the numbers have climbed steadily since we started. That's all good.
Tell your friends. We appreciate an audience.
Hi Bob, what has the football team been doing without a known opponent and likely six weeks in between games? Thanks.
I keep hearing that Crandall Head basically is an Illini already--he just hasn't committed yet. If that's true, why not just commit and get it over with? What am I missing?
Also, what are our chances with Anthony Johnson? He would be a HUGE addition to our squad!
Or why not wait and make absolutely certain that's where you and your family want you to spend four years? Crandall Head is only a sophomore in high school. Did you know where you wanted to attend college as a sophomore in high school? I was trying to figure out how to skip seventh period and go fishing on the South Platte River, to say nothing about college. Give him some time. I think it's a matter of time before Crandall Head commits to Illinois, but these things change. Luther Head told us in September that he'd love to see his brother in Champaign.
And yes, Anthony Johnson is very promising. He'll be on campus again soon, this time Dec. 15 for the Shootout at the Hall.
The players were given Thanksgiving week off to go home and take a little break. They returned to team duties on Monday, which includes running and lifting with Lou Hernandez. Practice resumes Friday and Saturday, then a break from practice until next Thursday.
Coach Hernandez will keep them in shape. In fact, the way he does things, players will get stronger and faster during the time off. They will be able to do more conditioning than usual.
They can't simulate a game. Too bad they aren't allowed to bring in Eastern Illinois for a scrimmage. That would be huge. But Ron Zook has done his homework about bowl preparation, talking to different people about what works best. I think the Illini will be ready for the game and the rustiness won't be apparent.
The Illinois offense in its present form is pretty rustproof. Timing isn't as much of an issue as is being physical and running hard.
Bob please give us your Illini bowl destination prediction broken down by percentage.
What upsets are most likely this weekend?
Bob said I'm at the Lincoln Memorial. Not true. But Bob IS at Dairy Queen for the third time today.
I love this kind of question. And I love trying to think like the bowls. So, here goes:
Capital One: 60 percent
Fiesta Bowl: 20 percent
Rose Bowl: 10 percent
Orange Bowl: 5 percent
Sugar Bowl: 5 percent
It's going to be one of those five games. Wisconsin just accepted a bid to the Outback Bowl, so you know Illinois is going to play Jan. 1.
The most likely team to lose that will affect Illinois is Missouri against Oklahoma, though I think the Tigers roll. Many have speculated that if Ohio State moves into the BCS title game, then Illinois is automatic for the Rose Bowl. I don't think that's the case. There will be a push from both Kansas and Georgia to play in Pasadena. There will also be a push from Illinois.
The Fiesta makes perfect sense, especially if Arizona State loses. That would make it an Illinois-Kansas game. Very winnable for Illinois.
Arizona State can definitely lose to Arizona and UCLA can beat Southern Cal. I don't see Hawaii losing to Washington, but you never know.
I know this is an Illinois sports chat but I watched portions of the Wisconsin/Duke game and Vitale and the play by play guy kept (over)emphasizing that Scheyer was so important as a 6th man, but to me, it appears that he is being recruited over by their better freshmen. What do you think? Is this guy totally irrelevant by next year and should he have gone to Illinois. See I made this an Illini question.
Mudhen, great name. Remember, heading into the Maui Invitational, although it was only after a couple games, Jon Scheyer was the Devils' leading scorer. What Duke is doing is settling into a new kind of system, spreading out four perimeter shooters around a central big guy. It's kind of like what Bradley does, but to a greater degree and clearly with more success and better athletes. Jon Scheyer will be one those four shooters, and I think you'll see a different Devil hitting shots every other night. Duke's dangerous. If Jon Scheyer is being recruited over, that is one heck of a deep team, and family members have told me he's quite happy at Duke.
Thanks for the question and good observation though. The ACC race should be a good one. I thought Carolina was head and shoulders above the league, but Duke can absolutely give them a run if they get some interior production. I like NC State as the darkhorse too. Just my take.
Enough ACC. Go ahead, Bob. I'm eager to see the bowl projections, too. Bob's breakdown of the BCS system earlier this week was very helpful. Check it out.
Do you think we are smelling roses if Mizzou loses to Oklahoma this weekend? Alternatively do you think a loss by either Hawaii or Arizona State will move us up to a BCS at-large berth?
I don't think a Missouri loss to Oklahoma guarantees a Rose Bowl bid for Illinois, but it makes it possible. I do think a loss by Arizona State or Hawaii puts Illinois in a BCS game. As I see it right now, Illinois is the 11th school for 10 bids. It needs a loss to move up one spot.
Who are the frontrunners to replace the two senior offensive lineman next year? Has there been anyone that has really stood out on the scout teams, both offensively and defensively?
There are a bunch of possibilities for the offensive line replacements, but you'd have to start with Eric Block and Ryan Palmer, who filled in at times this season at guard and tackle. Brandon Jordan and Mark Jackson are also possibilities. So is Jack Cornell, who redshirted this season and looks good. And I wouldn't be surprised if incoming freshman Graham Pocic gets in the mix. He will be here in January and wants to play right away.
Individually, I'm not sure I can single out scout team players who looked good this year. What I can say is Illinois has more talent on the scout team than it has since I've been here. You will see many of those guys move into the lineup in the next year or two.
The big news here in the D.C. area is the tragic death of Redskins safety Sean Taylor. It's really taken hold of the metropolis. Sad, sad story.
Hey guys, rumors fly everyday about Indiana and their NCAA troubles over hoops recruiting. What's the latest on this front?
Hi Kyle. I think more is going to come out as the season wears on. It may be after the season or it may be tomorrow. But it's not over. You might recall a story I wrote a few weeks ago about IU's recruitment of Rodney Alexander. He had some interesting things to say, from a first-hand perspective. The best source of news that I've found on IU hoops lately is the Bloomington Herald Times and beat writer Chris Korman.
Right now the Hoosiers better be ready Saturday when they travel to Carbondale. If SIU can get some production on the perimeter, they have a good shot at the upset. Randal Falker is playing like the best player in the MVC, which he is, and Bryan Mullins and Ty Green will slow EJ Gordon, though no one has shut him down. USC used multiple ballhandlers to handle the Salukis' defensive pressure and beat them in Anaheim, and I think that's one area where the absence of Jordan Crawford will hurt the Hoosiers. Still, this IU squad might be the best team to visit the Saluki Dome since Bird's Sycamores.
Paul and Bob, do you have any ideas on who will replace Ron Guenther when he retires in the near future?
I think the school will look first at internal candidates. After that, it will go outside and look at current athletic directors. Northern Illinois' Jim Phillips would be a logical starting point, but there are others.
Ron Guenther will have a large say in picking his replacement. He has certainly earned that right with all his good work over the years. And he is thrilled to see football get turned around just as the stadium is being redone.
That's it for this week. We'll have complete coverage from College Park in Thursday's paper. And we'll be back next week for another chat.