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The newest member of the Illinois coaching staff returned to campus Thursday. It's been a hectic week since DeAndre Smith became Ron Zook's running backs coach.
Smith returned to Las Vegas, where he spent 2009 as an assistant at UNLV. His family likely will remain in Nevada until the summer.
"I didn't go to the coaches convention," Smith said. "No need to go. Which is a great thing."
When he left Champaign-Urbana for Las Vegas, the temperatures were in the teens and the snow wasn't going anywhere. It had warmed up quite a bit by the time he got back.
Recruiting is the top priority for Smith and the rest of the Illinois staff. But the coaches also will be spending time on installation of the new offense and getting to know each other.
With Tuesday's departure of Curt Mallory to Akron, Illinois will have six new coaches on its 2010 staff.
The lone holdover on the offensive staff is line coach Joe Gilbert, who joined the team in 2009.
"I have to lean on him for advice," Smith said. "Every place that I've been where we've had a lot of success, the O-line and running backs coach, we work really well together."
Smith has looked at film of the returning running backs.
"(Mikel) Leshoure is very talented, and (Jason) Ford is very talented," Smith said. "I watched Bud Golden when he was in high school. I know he has some ability. I haven't had a chance to look at them in-depth.
"This will be an energetic room. I'm looking forward to that."
All of the running backs will have a clean slate with Smith. What they did in the past, positive and negative, won't impact their roles in 2010.
"I get to judge them based on what they show me," Smith said.
Smith thinks comparisons to former coach Reggie Mitchell are inevitable. And he welcomes them.
"I'm familiar with Coach Mitchell, and I've used some of the things he teaches," Smith said. "I've never had a problem asking, 'What did Coach tell you on this?' Especially if it's a little different than what I teach."
Smith visited Chicago high schools during his first week. That will be part of his recruiting territory, which also will include St. Louis and Kansas City, Mo. Smith will work the same areas as Mitchell, who left to join Turner Gill's staff at Kansas.
"I've got to get out and meet the (high school) coaches, let them know I'm here and establish that communication," Smith said. "That's the biggest thing."
Smith's recruiting territories aren't new to him. He has been in the same high schools while working for Northern Illinois, Miami (Ohio) and New Mexico.
"It's not like I have never been in there," Smith said. "It will be like, 'Didn't you have a different shirt on a year ago?' "
Smith said his family is excited to make the move to Illinois. His wife, Lori, is from St. Louis, and her parents are still in the city. The Smiths have three children, daughter Ashley and sons Ryan and Donovan.
Smith has a two-year contract at Illinois that will pay him $140,000 annually. It's the most he's made at any stop during his coaching career.
The last two jobs have lasted only one year, at New Mexico in 2008 and at UNLV in 2009. While the UNLV staff knew it needed to get to a bowl game to keep its job, Rocky Long's firing at New Mexico was a surprise to Smith.
The coach wants to end the one-year runs and is hoping for a long stay in C-U.
"I would love to be able to get settled," Smith said. "This is my third move in three years, something I didn't plan on."
Coaching wasn't Smith's original career path. He was selling insurance when his former coach recommended him for a position at Indiana State. Now, he's entering his 12th season as a college assistant.
"I had never coached before in my life," Smith said. "This is a whole lot easier. This is great. This is what I know. I loved selling insurance, but it wasn't my calling."
Moving it up
Ohio State will play its season opener against Marshall on a Thursday. The game was moved from Sept. 4 to Sept. 2.
It will be the first midweek game for the Buckeyes since 1997, when they opened vs. Wyoming on a Thursday.
The time and television network haven't been announced yet for Ohio State-Marshall. But with the Buckeyes expected to be ranked high in the preseason, the game figures to get a prominent place on the television schedule.
The ESPN networks will carry at least two other games that day, including Lane Kiffin's debut as Southern Cal coach against Hawaii. Southern Miss-South Carolina also will be televised.
Changing his mind
Former Illini receiver George McDonald didn't stay long at Rutgers. McDonald, who had joined Greg Schiano's staff as receivers coach, returned to the Cleveland Browns, where he had spent the 2009 season.
At the time McDonald left the Browns, it looked like new team president Mike Holmgren was going to fire Eric Mangini and his staff. When that didn't happen, McDonald returned to the Browns.
Former Illinois assistant coach Tom Sims, who worked at Kansas in 2009, is joining Eric Wolford's staff at Youngstown State.
Former Illinois offensive coordinator Mike Schultz reportedly interviewed to be receivers coach at Louisiana Tech. But Derek Dooley's departure for Tennessee puts the Louisiana Tech positions in limbo.
Two Big Ten players earned spots on the Football Writers Association of America Freshman All-America team. Wisconsin linebacker Chris Borland and Michigan State defensive lineman Jerel Worthy made the cut.
Don't knock the WAC
The conference conducted an online poll for its all-decade team and came up with a great list. The top vote-getter was Boise State offensive lineman Ryan Clady, now a standout with the Denver Broncos.
Hawaii's Colt Brennan was named the best quarterback of the decade, and the running backs were TCU's LaDainian Tomlinson and Boise State's Ian Johnson. Hawaii filled two of the three receiver spots (Ashley Lelie and Davone Bess) with the third slot going to Fresno State's Bernard Berrian.
It's never too early to look ahead at the 2011 games, which will be televised by ESPN for the first time. Taking into account the early departures for the NFL, here's who'll be playing:
Ohio St. vs. Boise St.
The question, of course, is will the voters allow the Broncos in the title game? When Boise State starts the season in the Top 5 – and it will – it will be impossible to keep it out. In a fun twist, the game is in Arizona.
Oregon vs. Iowa
Back to Pasadena for the Ducks, who will be giddy that it's Ricky Stanzi lining up at quarterback instead of Terrelle Pryor. Turns out Oregon made a good choice when it picked Chip Kelly.
Alabama vs. TCU
A regular season loss keeps Alabama from defending its national title. And, uh-oh, it will face another undefeated Mountain West team in New Orleans. That didn't go so well last time.
Texas vs. N. Carolina
Mack Brown gets to play his old team, which will edge Georgia Tech for the ACC Coastal title. The Longhorns have critical spots to fill on the team, starting with quarterback. But there is plenty of talent in reserve.
Miami vs. Cincinnati
If not for a loss at Ohio State in September, the Hurricanes would be the ones playing for the national title. Still, a home game against the Big East champion isn't a bad consolation prize. Thanks to a smart coaching hire, the Bearcats won't fall far post-Brian Kelly.