UI picks on someone its own size
BLOOMINGTON, Ind. – By rule, somebody has to win.
The 0-7 Illinois football team visits the other Memorial Stadium today for a game with 1-7 Indiana.
First-year Illini coach Ron Turner and first-year Hoosiers coach Cam Cameron look for their first Big Ten win.
The NCAA doesn't keep track of games between teams with bad records. If it did, today's would be near the top of the list.
Only the Oct. 18 game between Texas Christian and Tulsa, with a combined record of 0-10, is worse percentagewise than today's 1-14 (6.7 winning percentage).
"I've only been involved in an 0-7 or 1-7 on my side one time in my career," Turner said. "I would think this would be a first."
Cameron never has experienced a losing season as a college coach. Of course, it helps he spent every season before this year at Michigan.
But in three seasons as a National Football League assistant, Cameron had bad days, weeks, months. His first year with the Washington Redskins, the team went 3-13.
In Washington, Cameron worked with Norv Turner, Ron Turner's brother. Cameron and Norv Turner talk each week.
Last Sunday, before his team's game with Baltimore, Norv Turner called both his brother and Cameron from the locker room.
"Nobody understands how tough it is on us better than Norv Turner," Cameron said. "We went through some tough times there together. That's why he called me."
Norv Turner also took the time to joke with Cameron about the upcoming game.
"He knows we're both struggling on offense," Cameron said. "He said, 'Thank goodness they came up with that overtime rule.' He said me and Ron might be the only two guys in America who could coach a game to a 0-0 tie."
Which team is Norv Turner rooting for, the one coached by his brother or his former assistant?
The coach couldn't be reached this week to answer, but Cameron and Ron Turner have an idea which way he's leaning.
"I don't know that any guy has ever, ever rooted against his brother," Cameron said. "Norv's a loyal guy, but he's going to root for his brother."
"He better be," Ron Turner said.
Both Cameron and Turner want to win today's game badly. Just don't call them desperate.
"I don't know if anybody's desperate, but both teams need a win," Turner said. "It doesn't mean either program's going to die. That's what desperate means. Whoever loses this game, the program is not going to fall apart. I know we need a win, and a win would do a lot for us."
Before they can think about winning a game, Turner said, the Illini need to win some plays. In the first quarter of last Saturday's blowout loss to Purdue, Illinois had five chances to make big plays. They missed sacks, dropped interceptions and threw interceptions.
"We've got to have some guys make some plays that stand out to everybody," Turner said.
Neither team has been in contention for weeks. In their last four games, the Illini have been outscored 156-26. Indiana has lost six consecutive games by a combined 244-39.
"Our guys are wearing down," Cameron said. "There's no question."
Cameron and Turner, the two youngest coaches in the Big Ten, are trying to groom young teams. Indiana starts three freshmen, and Illinois has seven in the lineup.
"Illinois is in a similar situation that we're in," Cameron said. "Our guys have got to bounce back, be ready. Young teams have a tendency to bounce back when things aren't going their way."
With the chance for a winning year and a bowl game gone, both coaches are looking to send their seniors out with a few wins and to find answers for next season.
Cameron and Turner didn't create the mess they're in. Cameron inherited a 3-8 team with low scholarship numbers. Turner took over a 2-9 team that had lost its way, especially on offense.
"The bottom line is it doesn't really matter why we are where we are," Cameron said.
Cameron learned how to fix a program while at Michigan. One year, the Wolverines went 6-6, losing to national champion Brigham Young in the Holiday Bowl.
The Michigan staff looked at every part of the team, from the players to the trainers to the weight room. They made changes. The next year, the Wolverines went 10-1-1 and finished ranked No. 2.
"You can't do it that quickly here, but you do it the same way," Cameron said. "We're continually evaluating everything we're doing here."
The final word
The Hoosiers held a 45-minute closed practice late Friday afternoon. As expected, the Illini practiced at their hotel.