UFR: I'm cool with O'Toole

UFR: I'm cool with O'Toole

Paul Klee's take on Saturday's 44-0 shellacking of Charleston Southern

First Impressions

— Illinois has a gamer in Reilly O'Toole. Yes, this takes into account the level of opponent he faced Saturday in a 44-0 win against Charleston Southern, an FCS squad. But it takes a competitor to bounce back the way he did. O'Toole's first career start turned into an embarrassing loss to Arizona State on national TV. Seven days later, he set an Illinois passing record with an 83.9 completion percentage (26 of 31). He connected on his first 10 passes. Unfortunately, the 11th was a "Cutler" — a red-zone interception — but he added five TD passes. No one's done that at Illinois since Juice Williams against Missouri in 2008. The Nathan Scheelhaase-O'Toole-Miles Osei quarterbacking trio has its flaws. But it's a gritty group that we would want in our locker room.

— Saturday's crowd at Memorial Stadium equaled the turnout at Ohio State's Horseshoe — if every one of the Illini fans had brought a few friends. Announced attendance: 45,369. Real attendance: estimated about 35,000, or a few more thousand than the turnout for the season opener. This time there weren't hurricane remnants that scared people away — only a scary level of apathy toward Illinois football. One longtime observer — OK, it was Loren Tate — said there hasn't been this kind of indifference toward the program since the Jim Valek era of the late 1960s. Illinois football is in trouble right now, and it has little to do with the upcoming schedule or Scheelhaase's left ankle. It's a program coming off back-to-back bowl wins for the first time — with a new coach, which usually spikes fan interest — and the indifference is telling. Right now there are three main sporting seasons at Illinois: basketball, basketball recruiting and football.

Second Guessing

— Guarantee games against overmatched opponents are a fact of college football life. The most egregious of these was Florida State's hosting of Savannah State last weekend. Savannah State was paid $860,000 to be a 70.5-point underdog and lose 55-0 at Florida State in a weather- and mercy-shortened mismatch. Nebraska's guarantee to Arkansas State on Saturday: $1 million. Here, Charleston Southern's 15th straight defeat came with a paycheck of $410,000. "It's really gone up the last few years," Illinois AD Mike Thomas said of guarantees. The small schools are winning this battle, if not the one on the field, because they hold the leverage, Thomas said. Budget-minded visitors can use the Nebraska-Arkansas State example and hold out for a bigger payday. "They can say, 'Well, look what LSU is paying so-and-so. That's what we want,' " Thomas said. "But remember — we don't have a 100,000-seat stadium (to offset the cost), either."

— The cost of guarantee games in basketball is increasing even more dramatically. John Groce's Illini usually will pay between $50,000 and $100,000 to schedule an overmatched opponent at the Assembly Hall, Thomas said. In hoops, guarantee-game candidates drive up the cost if a high-major opponent is in a time crunch and desperately needs to add a home game to finish a schedule. Those kinds of figures make it hard to second-guess the Colgates and Charleston Southerns that sign up for a blowout.

— Really, Tim Beckman deserves credit for motivating a team coming off a concerning defeat in the desert. But the two-point conversion attempt — with a 6-0 lead — had some observers scrunching their eyebrows. He explained the special-teams decision like this: "That's something we do. If you ever watched any of our Toledo games, that's what we did. We're going to get in multiple looks; people are going to have to prepare for it."

Third Degree

— You can take the coach out of the SEC, but you can't take the SEC out of the coach. Urban Meyer dived into his Tim Tebow playbook with Braxton Miller's jump-pass touchdown to Jake Stoneburner. That helped Ohio State escape Cal 35-28 in a game that was there for Cal's taking. Ohio State set itself up for early success in the Meyer era, playing all four nonconference games in the comforts of Ohio Stadium. How to beat the Buckeyes? Catch them on a day when Braxton Miller is bad Braxton Miller. When he's good Braxton Miller, Meyer's club is the best the Big Ten has to offer.

— Keep an eye on the injury to Minnesota quarterback MarQueis Gray, who left a 28-23 win against Western Michigan with an ankle injury. Gophers coach Jerry Kill, who is shy with injury information, said the playmaker would have an MRI exam to learn more. The Gophers led 10-7 when Gray was injured. That they were able to preserve a win without the starter is yet another positive sign for a Minnesota (3-0) program trending upward under Kill.

In the Stadium

— You could argue that, after Deron Williams, Stephen Bardo is the public figure most often associated with Illinois basketball right now. His face and voice reach millions through his ESPN platform. The casual fan — even some high school prospects — associates him with Illinois. So it's noteworthy that John Groce, early in his tenure, had the foresight to build a proper relationship with Bardo. He's respected as an analyst, and his opinion carries weight.

"What I like is that he's asked questions. He didn't come in here and think he knew everything right off the bat," Bardo said at Memorial Stadium. "He's talking to (former players) and reaching out for feedback. That's great to see. We want to be involved."

Bardo was one of the former Illini in town for the men's basketball reunion. The event included Friday's dinner at the Colonnades Club and a pregame social Saturday morning. The only downside was the poor turnout, which also is a product of the mid-September timing. Look for Groce in the future to move the annual reunion to August, a more convenient time for pros like Williams and Dee Brown.

"What I like is (Groce's) philosophy. He wants to play up-tempo, play fast," Bardo said. "That's what kids want to see."

Unfortunately, we won't see as much of the Flyin' Illini point guard this season — at least in Big Ten country. ESPN has assigned him to Big 12 and Atlantic 10 games next season. Somebody start a petition.

— J Leman was put to the test in the Illini hero's debut as a BTN analyst. First, he's a former linebacker. Naturally, his knowledge base comes from the defensive side — and three and out after three and out rarely allowed him time to go in-depth with the Illini's defense. Second, a blowout like Saturday's forces you through material at warp speed. The outcome was decided at roughly the time Charleston Southern won the coin flip.

"I approached it a lot like I was playing in a football game," said Leman, the former Central star. "Preparation makes you comfortable and confident. I think I got better and more comfortable with every quarter."

All in all, Leman felt good about his debut. He arrived early to study his notecards and cheat sheets. He left the orange tie at home, preferring to stay semi-neutral, even on BTN, with a red tie, hair flowing in the breeze.

Next up: Louisiana Tech at Illinois. Leman is back in the booth next weekend.

"You know, I had all these stories and things to talk about (during the 'cast), but I learned the game dictates what you talk about," he said. "With the tempo of the college game now, you make a five-second comment and the next play is already starting. The game is so much faster than it was 10 years ago.

"So I had all these stories that I didn't get to use. Now I'll use them next week."

Categories (3):Illini Sports, Football, Sports

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vcponsardin wrote on September 16, 2012 at 6:09 am

Charleston Southern?  What's Charleston Southern?  I'm guessing Edison Middle School's team was booked?

oandb wrote on September 16, 2012 at 9:09 am

yeah I'm going to grab my three kids and maybe some of their friends and drive 2 1/2 hours to Champaign to watch a scrimmage. Great idea. Especially when the product was demolished the week before. 

The team needs to appeal to the student body first. Mike White was great at this and had no problem filling seats. I understand the student body has changed over the years but I believe students will support their school.


Matt wrote on September 16, 2012 at 10:09 am

A majority of Div 1-A teams play a Div 1-AA team now. Alabama plays Western Carolina this year. It's just the way things are now due to the 12 game schedule. Anyone who complains about this is just looking for something to complain about. Just show up to the games and support the team win or lose. The more support the fans gives the more likely recruits will be willing to sign.

Moonpie wrote on September 16, 2012 at 12:09 pm

More wanking, this time from Klee Klub and not just Obi Wan Tate: you know, those traitorous fans etc. Fans need to be sold and this football program hasn't gotten the job done. Time to stop insulting fans because they won't all be in blind lockstep just because professional cheerleaders Klee Klub and Obi Wan think they should.

jdstieg wrote on September 16, 2012 at 5:09 pm

Moonpie continues his/her stupid comments.

jjohnson wrote on September 16, 2012 at 5:09 pm

I don't read Klee as knocking the fans, nor do I read oandb that way. Can anyone say that scheduling the school for the infirm is the way to excite fans? Who cares that Alabama and Florida do the same; their fans are simply less discerning and do not have the industry to find other things to occupy their time (whether their minds are often occupied I cannot say). I do regret that there seems to be apathy toward football right now, though I do not share that at all, and I do agree that winning should change that, but an Illini home game is not a four hour commitment for people from outside of the C-U area, and I think we are needed -- as we always have been -- to fill the seats.

randyjpe wrote on September 17, 2012 at 8:09 am

Paul, calling out Florida State's game against Savannah State as the most egregious is misdirected.  Savannah State was not paid $860,000 by the Seminoles, it was $475,000.  ($860,000 was the total paid to Savannah for their games against the Seminoles and Oklahoma State.)  Moreover, Florida State was supposed to be hosting West Virginia that weekend but the Mountaineers canceled the series less than a year in advance, so the Seminoles were left scrambling to fill the spot.

Given that Florida State has historically scheduled two BCS-team nonconference games every year rather than the one most other teams do, I think the Seminoles have earned a pass for 2012 under the circumstances.

dcimino wrote on September 17, 2012 at 11:09 am

Considering all the discussion about fan apathy, a HUGE point is being missed.  11am games are killing this program!!!  Chicagoland is a critical part of the fan base. 11am games mean leaving home at 7am, no tailgating, and tired and apathetic fans at the game.   We need later games so people can enjoy PRE-game tailgating, and showing up with a little liquid courage to cheer the team on. It makes a difference!   

This is very different for other programs whose campuses are located much closer to their fanbases. Or schools in the east who get an extra hour before their noon time slots.  The school needs to lobby to get later games or the program is going to die.   And the press needs to press the issue!  

calvin wrote on September 17, 2012 at 12:09 pm

We should be playing one of our state schools with this game.  Big money kept in the state, and these teams have less expenses to boot.  Local fans from these schools love to talk about this game and add to the attendance as well. We are the flagship school for the state and this is one way to advertise around the state.  Too nervous about losing the game? Too bad.....play better.