Aug. 10 Ask the Sports Editor chat

Aug. 10 Ask the Sports Editor chat

Thursday, August 10, 2017 - 2:00pm

Sports editor Matt Daniels is back from vacation and eagerly anticipating what will transpire now that the school year is nearly here, both for Illinois athletics, junior college athletics and high school athletics. Will the Illini make a bowl game? What's the next big-time prospect Lovie Smith or Brad Underwood lands? What area high school programs might win a state title? Can Parkland have another dominating school year on the junior college ranks? Nothing is off limits as he chats at 2 p.m. on Thursday. Feel free to send questions in ahead of time.

Matt Daniels wrote on August 10, 2017 at 1:08 pm
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Afternoon everyone.

Matt Daniels here on a sunny, warm Thursday in August. Training camp is nearly half over for Lovie Smith and the Illinois football program, with our Bob Asmussen and Scott Richey supplying ample coverage the last two weeks, while our photo staff has captured some eye-catching images.

Miss any of our coverage? You're in luck. It's all here at IlliniHQ.com.

All quiet (at least right now) on the Illinois basketball front as the team is back home for a few more weeks before classes get going here at the end of the month. Soon, official visits will be all the rage as the top Class of 2018 prospects start hitting college campuses once the school year starts.

On the high school front, we're busy at work before our high school football preview section comes out on Aug. 25, the first Friday of the regular season.

Plenty to talk about, so feel free to jump in at any point during the next 30-45 minutes.

Let's get this week's chat started.

Anonymous User wrote on August 10, 2017 at 1:08 pm

Seems like more positive vibes comming out of FB camp at this time than in quite a few years. Better incoming recruiting classes, good off season conditioning programs, year of experience in Lovie's system, etc. My question is if we can avoid injuries, get some lucky breaks here and there, can we realistically go 6-6 and make it to a bowl? I myself would be happy with improvement even in losses if that makes sense. Am I drinking to mucm Illini koolaid or what?

Matt Daniels wrote on August 10, 2017 at 2:08 pm
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Hey anonymous,

August is the perfect time of year for almost every college football program because no losses have mounted yet.

But it does seem to have a bit more of an optimistic feeling coming from Illinois football training camp this season compared to past years.

Questions aren't swirling around the program about whether the Illinois coach is on the hot seat (Lovie Smith is most certainly not) and the players are more familiar with what Smith and his staff want out of practices and with their schemes than this time last season.

The number of key players who have been limited during training camp is a bit concerning at this point, but all that matters is whether guys like Jaylen Dunlap, Mikey Dudek, Kendrick Foster, Christian DiLauro and other veterans on a very young Illinois team will be ready when Ball State visits for the Sept. 2 opener.

Sure, a 6-6 record is a possibility. It doesn't seem all that likely given the number of young players who will have to contribute significantly, but the schedule does provide a path (somewhat, although there's a few twists and turns) to reach six wins.

If Illinois can go 2-1 in nonconference play, or even better go 3-0, then the odds of making a bowl game increase significantly. But Western Kentucky and South Florida, even having to adjust to first-year coaches, have some serious talent and confidence based on what they accomplished last season. 

The nine-game Big Ten schedule is a bit daunting if Illinois doesn't come out of nonconference play feeling all that great. Home games against Nebraska, Wisconsin and Northwestern are likely considered long-shots for Illinois to win, at least at this moment, while road games at Iowa, Minnesota and Ohio State sure don't look like Illinois will stroll in there and leave with a victory.

That leaves home games against Rutgers and Indiana (the Hoosiers did go to a bowl game last year) and a road game at Purdue as three wins where, if you're an Illinois fan, you don't feel so down about.

Illinois will have to pull a few surprises in order to reach six wins and get to a bowl game, but a six-win season in Smith's second season would bring about even more confidence for future seasons. 

burkejo wrote on August 10, 2017 at 2:08 pm

Matt,

 

I apologize if this comes thru twice, I had some login issues. Just over 3 weeks until FOOTBALL SEASON!! I have some football questions for you.

Last year we were outscored by an average of 12 points per game, which is misleading since we won our opener by 49. Do you think we have the players in place to move the score a touchdown more on offense and a touchdown less on defense? Ron Zook said when he came to Illinois, the first year, we'll lose, year two we might still lose, but it will be closer games and possibly steal a win or two. Year three, you see the diffence. Are we on that same trajectory? (Rose Bowl in Zook's 3rd year)

Also, do you think that Crouch has improved his passing abilities enough to put a scare in opposing defenses? Last year, I loved his scrambling and read options, but when he dropped back to pass, I held my breath.

 

Thanks for taking our questions!

Matt Daniels wrote on August 10, 2017 at 2:08 pm
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Hey burkejo,

No worries. Got your question and no duplicates, either.

Don't know if I'll go out on a limb and pencil Illinois into the 2019 Rose Bowl at this moment, but one of the main items that you'd like to see out of Illinois this season (besides a few more wins) is Lovie Smith's program being competitive later in games.

The Big Ten opener at Nebraska last season was a good indication that might transpire throughout the 2016 season until the Cornhuskers really took it to Illinois in the fourth quarter. 

The losses at Michigan, Wisconsin and Northwestern, while not surprising, were disappointing given the fact those three teams were pretty darn impressive last season. The disappointing sign was that all three games were pretty much over by halftime.

Chayce Crouch still needs to improve his passing, and that will likely be the case this season and next season until he's out of eligibility at Illinois.

Crouch brings a different dimension to Illinois that it didn't necessarily use during three seasons of Wes Lunt at quarterback, and that's the ability to run the ball with the quarterback. But Crouch has to be wary of putting himself in precarious positions when he does decide to scramble. Crouch injured on the sidelines does no good for this year's team.

Crouch doesn't have the arm strength of Lunt, so he won't be able to make all the throws the Rochester native was able to make, but he could help the Illini offense move the ball more effectively with his ability to run. 

Matt Daniels wrote on August 10, 2017 at 2:08 pm
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Going to wrap up today's chat.

Be on the lookout for a jam-packed Friday sports section in The News-Gazette with a look at Danville High School football from preps coordinator Anthony Zilis, Loren Tate's latest column (focusing on the Illinois offensive line), a full-page of Illinois football training camp coverage and a glance at Champaign Central's boys' golf team that is intent on trying to replicate last year's season that ended with a Class 2A regional title and a strong showing at the state tournament.

On Sunday, come back as veteran N-G writer Bob Asmussen ranks the 25 Illinois athletes he's most looking forward to watching this upcoming school year, an extended Q&A with St. Thomas More volleyball standout Mica Allison, who is part of the U18 United States volleyball team that will compete later this month at the World Championships in Argentina and much, much more.

Have a great rest of the week everyone!