Aug. 14 Bob Asmussen chat

Aug. 14 Bob Asmussen chat

Monday, August 14, 2017 - 10:00am

How have the Illini looked so far in practice? What player is the most important to the team's success? Will the team force more turnovers in Lovie Smith's second season?

For the answer to these questions, and anything else on your mind, check in with our longtime college football writer.

Bob Asmussen wrote on August 14, 2017 at 10:08 am
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Welcome back to another Bob Asmussen chat. Hope everyone had a great weekend. I watched a lot of Illinois football and a lot of golf. Oh, and some baseball.

Hard to believe that the Illinois season opener is less than three weeks away. I don't have a great sense yet of how the current team will perform. I know it is thin in some spots and really needs to stay healthy.

The team is very, very young and sometimes that can be a good thing. We will see.

Lovie Smith continues to talk about the process. He has been at this a long time. The players believe in him and the system, which is important.

Enough blathering, time to get to your questions. As always, thank you for your participation.

 

Illini Mitch wrote on August 14, 2017 at 10:08 am

Bob, what has been the biggest surprise of training camp so far?

Bob Asmussen wrote on August 14, 2017 at 10:08 am
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Illini Mitch,

There have been several players who have caught my attention.

First is center Doug Kramer. He has been the starting center for most of training camp. If he stays there, and I believe he will, it gives Luke Butkus a lot more flexibility with his lineup. Christian DiLauro, Nick Allegretti and Gabe Megginson will be three of the five starters.

The freshmen running backs have been very good. Mike Epstein and Ra'Von Bonner look like veterans. Both are impressive runners. With Kendrick Foster and Reggie Corbin missing part of camp, it has worked out well for Garrick McGee to have the freshmen out there taking valuable reps.

Receiver is another spot where the players have performed well. Ricky Smalling doesn't look like a freshman and Mikey Dudek looks his old self. Dominic Thieman has made a lot of big plays. The receivers need Sam Mays back on the field soon.

illini Football Fan wrote on August 14, 2017 at 10:08 am

Bob -

What's in your crystal ball for this upcoming Illini football season? Will it be more of a surprise year or more of a disappointment year? Or right where we expect it to be? 

With such a young team, funny things can happen. Will this season define Lovie?

Thanks!

Bob Asmussen wrote on August 14, 2017 at 10:08 am
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Illini Football Fan,

I'm going to start with your last question first. Lovie Smith was given a six-year contract in part because the Illinois administration knew it would take some time to turn the program. Now, if the team goes to a bowl, we might look back 10 years from now and say "That was the turning point." But I think patience is very important when it comes to the program.

As far as the record, I think anything more than five wins and they should start building a statue for Lovie Smith.

The schedule is difficult. None of the nonconference games, including the opener against Ball State, are a lock for Illinois. I think the Illini will be underdogs against South Florida and it will be close for the Western Kentucky game. In the Big Ten, there are winnable games against Rutgers, Indiana and Purdue. Illinois will be an underdog against Iowa, Wisconsin, Nebraska and Ohio State. Right now, I would call the Minnesota game a tossup but the Gophers were good last year and figure to be difficult to beat at home.

I will say Illinois wins five games, beating Ball State, Rutgers, Indiana and Purdue and pulling one upset. A 5-7 second season would be a big deal for Lovie Smith and his program.

I have said all along that the third year looks like the best bet for Illinois to return to bowl eligibility,

All the above, of course, doesn't factor in injuries There are several players Illinois needs to keep on the field for 12 games.

Anonymous User wrote on August 14, 2017 at 10:08 am

Seems like a lot more positive outlook towards the Illini this year. From better recruiting to better off season training to a whole year under Lovie. Do you feel there is a chance with some lucky breaks, meaning less injuries to better play on the field, that we can attain a bowl game and maybe really get the rebuild going sooner than expected? More wins would definitely mean better recruiting in the future. More talent means more wins and so on and so on.

Bob Asmussen wrote on August 14, 2017 at 11:08 am
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Anon,

I never say never. I go back to 1999 and 2007, when Illinois made surprising runs to bowl games. Those teams were coming off 3- and 2-win seasons and expectations were pretty low.

Sometimes, it takes an unexpected win or a breakout performance by a freshman. That happened in both of those years. Once the ball starts rolling in a positive direction, then it can create a special season.

I should have mentioned this in the earlier question about the outlook for the season: Lovie Smith's push for turnovers could have a huge impact, the kind that could take a team from a modest win total to a bowl game.

If Illinois finishes plus-10 in turnover margin, basically one a game, it will have a chance to win more. Will that be enough for it to reach bowl eligibility? Maybe.

I think the biggest difference between this year's team and last year's team is that the players now understand the systems and the expectations.

Lovie Smith won't hesitate to play freshmen if they can help his team. That will speed up the rebuild too. There are a lot of talented players in the rookie class.

You mentioned one important consideration: injuries, Guys like Chayce Crouch and Mike Dudek and Kendrick Foster and Tre Watson have to stay on the field if the team hopes to have any success.

I credit Lovie Smith for being smart about how he works the players in camp. He is trying to get them to the season. Good plan.

Panera Guy wrote on August 14, 2017 at 11:08 am

Bob,

Thanks for taking our questions today, I'll throw the same one at you that I gave Matt last week.

Last year, we were outscored by an average of 12 points per game. We need to improve by a touchdown on both sides of the ball, do you feel that we're there yet?

Also, will you expect our biggest improvement to be on offense or defense? Who will be the surprise contributor on both sides?

Thanks!

Bob Asmussen wrote on August 14, 2017 at 11:08 am
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Panera Guy,

Great question. I like it when math is involved.

I don't think Illinois is there yet The overall talent level needs to be upgraded and I think Lovie Smith is moving toward that. But it can't be done in a year. More likely, it will take three of four recruiting classes.

That being said, sometimes freshmen surprise you. Maybe a young lineman or defensive back puts up huge numbers. Like Simeon Rice did back in the day.

I think the biggest improvement will be on offense which has more room to grow. Plus, the defense lost some very good players.

On the surprises, defensive lineman Tymir Oliver has played well on defense He could have a breakout year. On offense, this won't be a surprise, but I think Ricky Smalling will have an instant impact.

Bob Asmussen wrote on August 14, 2017 at 11:08 am
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I am going to cut off the chat for today. Thanks for all of your great questions. I will be back next Monday at the same time. Tell your friends.

If you have any questions between now and then, email me at asmussen@news-gazette.com.

"The News-Gazette Sports Page" will be broadcast tonight from the Campus Rec Fields. Please stop by and say hello.

Have a great week.