Sept. 8 Ask the Sports Editor chat

Sept. 8 Ask the Sports Editor chat

Friday, September 8, 2017 - 2:00pm

It might be just the first full week of September, but The News-Gazette sports staff is knee deep in Illinois and area high school athletics. What teams have stood out through the first few weeks? Which developing storylines might be of the most importance as the fall seasons progress? Who are the early breakout players? Sports editor Matt Daniels can answer those questions and more in his weekly chat starting at 2 p.m. Friday. Feel free to submit your questions ahead of time.

Matt Daniels wrote on September 08, 2017 at 2:09 pm
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Afternoon everyone. 

Matt Daniels here on a sunny, beautiful day weather-wise in Champaign-Urbana.

A little more than 24 hours until Lovie Smith's program kicks off against Western Kentucky at Memorial Stadium. A key game for the Illini if any bowl chances, however fleeting they may seem, want to transpire this season.

Basketball practice is less than a month away for Brad Underwood's program, with the new Illinois coach out in Springfield, Mass., this weekend at the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame induction ceremonies, where former Illini Mannie Jackson, along with former Illinois coach Bill Self, are part of the class.

And there's a huge volleyball match in Champaign tonight, with former Illinois coach Kevin Hambly, now the coach at Stanford, bringing the defending national champion into Huff Hall. Chris Tamas has his Illini unbeaten so far on the season with a 6-0 record. Should be a great atmosphere at Huff.

And, it's Week 3 of high school football season.

So, plenty to discuss. Let's get going

Rich Patton wrote on September 08, 2017 at 2:09 pm

What is the staus of the injury to Doug Kramer?  Will he be able to play this week?  Is it a long term injury?  Will he be back sometime?  What effect did his early departure have on the game against Ball State.  The offensive line struggled and I think that his departure contributed significantly.

Matt Daniels wrote on September 08, 2017 at 2:09 pm
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Hey Rich,

Good question.

Kramer left early against Ball State with a leg injury. Lovie Smith isn't prone to talking publicly about injuries (one of the items he likes talking about the least), so don't know if the redshirt freshman center will play against Western Kentucky. Or when he might suit up again.

If he doesn't, that could move Nick Allegretti to center. In my opinion, the ideal starting five for the Illinois offensive line at the moment is Christian DiLauro and Gabe Megginson at the two tackle spots, Kramer at center, with Allegretti and Larry Boyd manning the two guard spots.

The offensive line certainly struggled last Saturday, and that was a major talking point beat writers Scott Richey and Bob Asmussen picked up on this week at practice. 

Depth issues already existed at the position group before Kramer's injury, so if he's not able to go, that'll mean some more reshuffling. Good thing Illinois has a mobile quarterback this year in Chayce Crouch.

Zekiah Swamp wrote on September 08, 2017 at 2:09 pm

What exactly was Josh Whitman's role in the elimination of the "war chant"? 

Matt Daniels wrote on September 08, 2017 at 2:09 pm
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Hey Zekiah Swamp,

Since I'm not privy to those private conversations between Josh Whitman and Chancellor Robert Jones, I can't exactly give you a play-by-play of how it went down.

Everything Jones and Whitman have said since the topic became such a public controversy a little more than two weeks ago seems like it was a mutual decision.

They both have admitted that the public learning about the removal of the war chant could have been handled better. 

No matter how they would have handled it, though, a fair amount of public backlash would have happened, and is still happening more than two weeks after the fact.

The war chant music was one that, when you hear it, you instantly think of Illinois athletics. It'll still be that way for many folks for years to come, but unfortunately, you're not going to be able to hear it at Illinois sporting events.

Anonymous User wrote on September 08, 2017 at 2:09 pm

I'm not sure this is the correct place for this but not many places to vent.  I think about 99% of Illini Nation has heard just about enough from Stephen Kaufman.  He has a right to his opinion but he has stated it enough that we are all aware of how he feels.  But, I don't think he wants to recognize that we are all entitled to our opinions too.  I wish he would find someplace else to work that fits better with his views.  I think he just stays here to be a thorn in everyone's side.  If he got his way on this, he would then just find another "cause" to campaign for.  He will never be satisfied.  Sounds like the Chancellor has about had his fill of him too.  Do you think all of this controversy will ever go away?  Just when we think things are on the upswing, something like banning the war chants stirs everything up again.  My family is a Chief supporter but we know he is never coming back.  SAD!!

Matt Daniels wrote on September 08, 2017 at 2:09 pm
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Hey anonymous,

No, I don't think the Chief Illiniwek controversy and now the war chant controversy will go away anytime soon. 

Sometime in the future, it might, but that only happens when generations of Illinois fans stop bringing up the two topics. Which won't be anytime soon.

Passionate voices are on both sides of the debate, which was pretty quiet in recent years until the war chant music was unexpectedly dropped from being played at sporting events right at the onset of this school year.

Peoria Jeremy wrote on September 08, 2017 at 2:09 pm

Obviously there are bigger issues to deal with in Florida, but is there any thought that the football game against USF might be cancelled or moved?  How possible would it be to host the game here and turn it into a fundraiser for those in Florida?

Matt Daniels wrote on September 08, 2017 at 2:09 pm
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Hey Peoria Jeremy,

Thoughts out to all those in Florida being affected by Hurricane Irma. Crazy weather around the world the last few weeks.

So far, nothing has been determined about next Friday's game at South Florida, which is slated to take place in Tampa at Raymond James Stadium (where Lovie Smith coached the Buccaneers for two seasons).

But South Florida won't play Saturday at Connecticut because of safety concerns of traveling back to Florida after the game, plus USF closed its campus on Thursday and will remain closed through at least Sunday, if not longer.

Florida, Florida State, Miami and Central Florida all won't play this weekend, either, because of the storm.

I think it's going to have to be a wait-and-see approach when it comes to Illinois to how much Irma affects Florida in the coming days and go from there. 

That's an interesting idea to possibly have Illinois host South Florida next weekend and turn it into a relief effort type game, where all proceeds go to help hurricane relief. That's a decision Josh Whitman and the rest of the Illinois athletic department will have to make next week once it is known how much damage Irma causes in Florida.

It's a fluid situation that can change in a matter of hours, but the important issue to remember is it's just a football game. Thousands, if not millions of people, are going to be affected by Irma's destruction, and the rebuilding efforts may take weeks, months and years.

Anonymous User wrote on September 08, 2017 at 2:09 pm

Was last game a question of a not so good Illini team or a Ball State team that is pretty good? It sure seems like we played a lot of freshman. Is it safe to say we could log more minutes from freshman than any other team this year? If the Illini win this week is it reasonable we could get to six wins and go to a bowl? I would think that would put this rebuild ahead of schedule wouldn't you? If we were to get to six wins where do you think the six wins would come from on this schedule? Lastly, with 14 commits and about 6 more to go what positions does Lovie try to go after, or would you just try and get the best players regardless of position? Thanks!

Matt Daniels wrote on September 08, 2017 at 2:09 pm
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Hey anonymous,

Last week's game featured a young, unproven Illinois team that looked pretty bad at times.

Trailing a team from the MAC, especially one that finished 4-8 last season, late in the fourth quarter of a home opener didn't exactly inspire much confidence for what will come this season.

The Illini are one of the youngest teams in the country this season and will have plenty of freshmen see the field, perhaps most in the country. Time will tell.

A win on Saturday night against Western Kentucky, a quality team with a standout quarterback in Mike White, could go a long way towards getting Illinois to that six-win mark and a possible bowl bid.

But, then where do you find the other four wins on the schedule? South Florida (if the game is played) is a challenge. 

Rutgers and Purdue didn't exactly look like pushovers in their Week 1 losses to Washington and Louisville, respectively.

Indiana led Ohio State at halftime. And the rest of the Illini's Big Ten opponents this season won their openers, although Nebraska's defense struggled in its 43-36 win against Arkansas State.

At this moment with the 2018 recruiting class, help on the defensive line and offensive line are key priorities. Lovie Smith made that clear with his first recruiting class. Having two quarterbacks in Coran Taylor and Cordell Littlejohn helps depth-wise at that position. Adding a skill player or two, either at wide receiver and running back, would be a nice boost, too, but building depth along both lines is crucial.

Matt Daniels wrote on September 08, 2017 at 2:09 pm
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Going to wrap up this week's chat. Thanks for all the questions on a variety of topics.

Be sure to check out Saturday's N-G for a look at new Illinois running back Mike Epstein, projected starters for both Illinois and Western Kentucky, Loren Tate's latest column and much more in a jam-packed sports section.

Be tuned into for all sorts of updates on Saturday night before, during and after the Illini host Western Kentucky.

Have a great weekend everyone!