Dec. 11 Bob Asmussen chat

Dec. 11 Bob Asmussen chat

Monday, December 11, 2017 - 10:00am

Who will be the next commit to the Illinois football class? How many players will Lovie Smith sign on Dec. 20? Where will the Illini finish in Big Ten and national recruiting rankings?

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

Bob Asmussen wrote on December 11, 2017 at 10:12 am
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Welcome back to another Bob Asmussen chat. Hope everybody had a great weekend.

I covered the Illinois women's basketball game and watched a lot of basketball and football. We also took time as a family to go cut down a Christmas tree at a farm in Urbana. A bit on the chilly side, so I stayed near the treee the family picked out in record time.

The Illinois football staff is in a crucial stretch with signing day barely a week away. I think of this as early Christmas shopping. You want to make sure to get a good chunk of it done, then leave a few presents for later. If that makes sense.

Enough stalling, there are several questions ready to go. Thanks as always for your participation.

 

Effrem Winters wrote on December 11, 2017 at 10:12 am

Bob,
As a long time suffering fan, I have a very low bar set for Illinois football.
However, I feel we have to win 4 games next year. Otherwise, I would question weather Lovie is the right hire. What do you think the minimum number of wins need to be next year?
Thanks

Bob Asmussen wrote on December 11, 2017 at 10:12 am
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Efrem Winters,

I was talking to a big Illinois fan from Florida last week and he asked me the same question,. And I came up with the same answer as you: four.

Double the wins next year will be a sign that the program is making progress. Less than that will be a sign of trouble.

In the time I have covered the Illinois football team, the third year has always been a bowl season. For Ron Turner, Ron Zook and Tim Beckman. The tricky part has always been maintaining success after the breakthrough happened. I would say Ron Zook pulled it off, dropping a bit before leading teams to back-to-back bowl seasons. Then he got fired. The wrong move.

So, as always, I will preach patience. But to get there for most Illinosi fans, it will take a bump in wins in 2018. Kent State, coming off a 2-10 season, should be a win for Illinois. So should Western Illinois, an FCS school. Need to point out the Leathernecks went 8-4, so the game will not be a walkover.

The third and fourth games against South Florida and Penn State are going to be difficult for Lovie Smith's team. Then an open week, followed by trip to Rutgers and a visit from Purdue. Winning one of those team is a reasonable expectation. That leaves one win needed against Wisconsin, Maryland, Minnesota, Nebraska, Iowa and Northwestern. The Badgers, Hawkeyes and Wildcats are going to be good and Nebraska will be better. So, the Illini need to beat Maryland or Minnesota.

The schedule, generally, works well for the Ililni. Three of the top teams in the East aren't on it. Good time to miss Ohio State. Michigan and Michigan State.

BrianAn wrote on December 11, 2017 at 10:12 am

Is there a website that tells you what announcers will be doing what games ?

Bob Asmussen wrote on December 11, 2017 at 10:12 am
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BrianAn,

 

Yes there is and it is one of my favorite sites to visit: Awfulannouncing.com. When you go to the home page, open "Other" and the announcing schedule is listed.

My only problem with the site is that once I go there, I have a hard time moving on to something else. I will go back again after this chat.

If you having trouble finding a particular game you are interested in, you can always email me at asmussen@news-gazette.com and I will try to help you find it.

I know that BTN is very good about listing its broadcast teams for upcoming events. Very user friendly, which I appreciate.

 

teachdacc2 wrote on December 11, 2017 at 10:12 am

Bob, thanks for the great coverage of the Illini football.  Can you comment on the activities this weekend regarding economist and new commits? 

Bob Asmussen wrote on December 11, 2017 at 10:12 am
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teachdacc2,

First, thanks for the kind words.

On to recruiting, the biggest news of the wekend was the addition of defensive back Delano Ware, a safety from California. Based on Lovie Smith's pickup last year of undervalued Bennett Williams, you have to think that Ware will be a player who can help immediately.

Here's a case where the coaches clearly aren't worried about his two-star rating. They must like what they see of him on tape and in person. They hit a home run with Williams,who figures to be a four-year regular.

 

Illinni Football Fan wrote on December 11, 2017 at 10:12 am

Bob -

Some thoughts:

1) It is fairly certain that there will be some coaching changes under both OC and DC. It is my hope that, despite the losing records of past years, we attract top caliber assistant coaches, especially along the OL and DL. I strongly believe strong line play is the biggest key to the rebuild. Skill positions cannot do well unless the line is doing the job of protecting the QB and creating room for positive yardage for RB and WR positions. This leads to ...

2) Importance of readily loading up depth on both DL and OL and top recruitment of players and plenty of it. If you look at the Wisconsins and similar teams, you will see that the heart of their successes comes down to line play. I just sense not enough of this is happening at Illinois. I would shift away slightly from getting commits from WR, DB, LB positions to more of getting more linemen lined up for the next few classes.  This also leads to ...

3) Importance of coaching up players regardless of rankings in recuiting classes. We had an unusually high number of freshmen play last year and hopefully a big leap in improvement in the off-season(s). We had a good # of penalties last year that ultimately contributed to communicatioon/coaching errors on the sidelines. This needs to be corrected though the Coordinators and associated coaches. This brings to the balance of accomplishing specific recruiting priorities, developing strong line play and resultly achieved goals on offense and defense, and solid, consistent coaching in developing players and streamlined units on both sides of the ball.

Your thoughts? (Any advice you would give to Lovie, if asked)

Thanks and Happy Holidays

 

 

Bob Asmussen wrote on December 11, 2017 at 11:12 am
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Illini Footbal Fan,

 

Happy holidays to you too.

On the last point, Lovie Smith won't likely listen to me. And I wouldn't either. He's been coaching for a long time and knows the game much better than I do. But I have been around the program for a long time and one bit of a advice I would give him is to get out there more. Show up at the dorms with pizzas for the students. Hang out at local restaurant, shaking hands with the customers. I know that is not his nature, which would make it so much more effective.

My sense is the public wants him to do well. The support will be enhanced if they get to know him better. My dealings with him have been positive. I think more people need to see his friendly, human side.

Your ideas about line play are 100 percent right. The good, consistent programs start there. Line play is the foundation for success and it should be.

Based on how he put together his staff, Lovie Smith thinks the best coaches are in the NFL. No need to argue that. But there are also very smart people working in colleges and high school. The key is to be open-minded about all ideas.

I don't think there is any doubt that the freshmen who played so much in 2017 are going to be better after an off-season of weight training and conditioning. They will also be better prepared mentally as they move forward. The penalties will drop as the players become more mature and more knowledgable. Better that they happen now when the wins weren't going to happen than down the line when the games might be on the line.

One more point about recruiting priorities for Illinois: Lovie Smith was concerned about the lack of overall speed and athleticism on the team he inherited That too is a priority. I think that is a wise decision.

 

 

Anonymous User wrote on December 11, 2017 at 11:12 am

A  football question and a general one.

How, in your opinion, is football recruiting going?  It seems Coach Smith has a strategy towards finding players that meet his systems and doesn't necessarily worry about how services evaluate a player (in terms of stars.)  Who are some of the lower "ranked" players he brought in last year excelled in his systems? 

 

In terms of the more general, any idea when we might hear the results of the NHL funded hockey feasibility study?

Thanks and have a great holiday season with your family. 

Bob Asmussen wrote on December 11, 2017 at 11:12 am
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Anon,

 

You are right, Lovie Smith doesn't care about the recruiting rankings. To me, they are helpful from a publicity angle, but don't do you a lot of good on the field.

There are a bunch of examples of players from last year outperforming their recruiting rankings. Isaiah Gay was a two-star recruit. So were Bobby Roundtree and Jamal Woods and Bennett Williams, who were all key contributors. Same with Nathan Hobbs, Alex Palczewski and Louis Dorsey. At this point, you have to call them finds.

When the press conference was called last week to announce the new track and soccer stadium, many thought it might be about hockey. Josh Whitman is a process guy and he isn't going to rush anything. My guess is the hockey information will come out during the winter or early spring. It is on the long list of priorities for the AD.

teachdacc2 wrote on December 11, 2017 at 11:12 am

Bob,   

Should the Big Ten do a review of the conference alignment?  Seems like the current alignment hurts the conference with regard to the playoffs or should the playoff system be changed?   How would you determine the top team in the country?  

Bob Asmussen wrote on December 11, 2017 at 11:12 am
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teachdacc2,

 

I said last week after the playoffs were announced that I thought Ohio State should have been one of the teams. Of course, Wisconsin could have saved the Big Ten a lot of trouble by beating the Buckeys. The Badgers would have knocked out Alabama. The Big Ten in hindsight would have been better off without a title game.

I hope we are not far from the expansion of the playoffs to eight teams. That would make sure that the most worthy teams would be in. I would like to see Central Florida in there this year. None of the top teams would want to play the Knights. 

Even with four teams, the playoff is better now than the old days were bowls invited teams and there was structure to it. Plus, the playoffs have been a lot of fun for fans. I think most people believe Clemson was the best team last year. Whoever wins this year will get the same respect.

 

Anonymous User wrote on December 11, 2017 at 11:12 am

What do you see as the positions that the Illini will concentrate on with the remaining scholarships for 2018? Seems to me like they need more playmakers, whether it be at WR, TE, or RB. Also no word yet on any changes in the FB coaching staff. With all the upheaval in the head coaching picture around the country, I would have thought there woud be alot among the assistants as well wouldn"t you? Also when can the tenth assistant be added and do you have any idea where the Illini is leaning in this area?  Will it be geared to emphasize recruiting? Thanks!

Bob Asmussen wrote on December 11, 2017 at 11:12 am
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Anon 2,

Look at the players the Illini lost for part of the answer. Linebacker got hit, so that will be a point of emphasis. I think you are right about the number of playmakers needed, though the team will get several players back next season from injury who will provide immediate help. And as was discussed earlier, you can never have too many good big guys up front. The secondary seems to the place of least concern.

On the coaching staff, I don't think you will see any changes until after the early signing day. Then, there will be all sorts of movement. My guess is that any coaches who might be on the way out at Illinois have been told that and will be looking for jobs. There will be a big shakeup nationally right around the first of the year.

As I understand it, the new assistant will come in January. I think Lovie Smith will want to find the best combination of recruiter and on-field coach. It will be a great help to have the extra hand for all schools and the players will benefit too. Long past due.

Panera Guy wrote on December 11, 2017 at 11:12 am

Bob,

Thanks for taking our questions today, I have a couple for you.

Considering Lovie's struggles here, were you surprised that Arizona State hired Herm Edwards? Were you even more surprised when he had his first press conference and didn't seem to realize his team had the word "Devils" in their nickname? Quite funny to watch if you haven't seen it yet.

My other question, why does it seem that other schools are able to bring in a new coach and see noticeable improvements quickly, but it just never works out that way at the U of I? Other than the hope of the freshmen improving in the near future, I can't say year 2 of Lovie was any better than year 1.

Thanks again!

Bob Asmussen wrote on December 11, 2017 at 11:12 am
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Panera Guy,

 

I was surprised by the Herm Edwards hire because he had been away from coaching for a while. It worked for Dick Vermeil with the Rams, so maybe it will happen at Arizona State. At least the school is rolling in basketball. That is one of those places where the football should be better.

I have heard about the Herm Edwards press conference but haven't seen it. I will say that those first few days are usually pretty frantic and not everybody looks good. The key is what he does in recruiting and on the field.

Year 2 of Lovie Smith reminded me somewhat of Year 2 for Ron Zook, who won the same number of games as the previous season. The difference, of course, was that the games were more competitive and Zook had a quarterback who was clearly going to be special in Juice Williams.

Go back to an earlier question. If the team doesn't win four games in 2018 you should start to panic.

Panera Guy wrote on December 11, 2017 at 11:12 am

One more question, if you have time.

 

If you're the Athletic Director for a day and can do anything you want, what would it be?

 

Thanks one more time!

Bob Asmussen wrote on December 11, 2017 at 11:12 am
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Panera Guy,

 

I always have more time for the chat.

Great question. Two of my big items have already been taken care of: the Butkus statue and Lou Henson in the Hall of Fame.

OK, I've got it: I am a big fan of Dan Hartleb's baseball program. Fix up his park. And while they are at it: land a minor league team to play there. That will mean the need to sell beer in the stadium. I'm a nondrinker who believes that alcohol sales should be allowed at all Ilinois venues. I think it is coming.

Bob Asmussen wrote on December 11, 2017 at 12:12 pm
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I am going to close the chat for today. Thanks for all of your great questions.

I will be back next Monday at the same time. If you have any questions between now and then, feel free to write me at asmussen@news-gazette.com.

If you are downtown tonight, stop by the Esquire for "The News-Gazette SportsPage." Illinois track coach Mike Turk will be our guest.

Have a great week everybody.