Illini Summer Report – Football

It’s August and Camp Rantoul is underway for the Illini Gridders.  Hard to believe we’re less than a month from the epic opener against the Mizzou Tiggers in St. Louis…

A couple of interesting developments on the football front this summer, but let’s start with the coverage angle:  Yes, IlliniHQ.com went live last week.  This website provides online content from C-U’s News-Gazette and the flagship radio station for the O&B, WDWS.  That means more blogs, more articles, podcasts, gameday shows, etc.  Over in Champaign they always say no one covers the Illini like the News-Gazette, and they’re right.  For years the paper locked away it’s sports content behind a subscription service.  It wasn’t cheap.  They did it because they could, because enough people paid for it, and it became a good revenue stream.  Likewise, WDWS had always balked at providing streaming content; their official explanation was ‘legal concerns’ (even after 3/4 of radio stations began to stream).  It’s nice that these venerable C-U media outlets have finally joined the 21st century.  The market has changed.  Media coverage has changed.

IlliniHQ.com looks really slick.  Lots of content, a fairly intuitive interface, the N-G beat writers, and a partnership with the Illiniboard.  Now the IB has not been my favorite lately: as a webboard it’s become fairly negative, snarky, and sophomoric.  But then I’ve pretty much described webboards in general.  And hey, now you can read the C-U Illini media stories then click over to the IB to see the malconents pillory those same writers in mere seconds!

On to Football…  Top story: Illinois #19 in pre-season Coach’s Poll.  Not since 2002 have the Orange & Blue enjoyed this kind of early buzz.  You could argue that last year’s Rose Bowl appearance was both fortuitous and ahead of schedule, and you wouldn’t be wrong.  That said, with the majority of the team returning, with the continuing addition of top-class athletes, and with the added experience at key positions, Illinois could be poised for a run at the Big 10 title.  Or a backslide to .500 or worse.  The schedule is not as forgiving this year, and the opener in St. Louis will be huge.  Also key: how the team fares against mid-level conference foes on the road  (think last year’s loss at Iowa).  Still, it’s nice to be on the right end of the hype-machine, at least for a while. 

The Stadium Renovation is right on schedule.  Amidst much hand-wringing by various factions, we can now see they’re right on schedule.  And not a moment to soon.  With the exception of a few season tickets Memorial Stadium is starting to sell out.  Think about that a sec…  Just two years ago it would’ve seemed ludicrous.  AD Ron Guenther is looking like quite the savvy strategist; meanwhile, those of us loyal fans who’ve sat through the recent time of woe of can’t wait to get that place rocking again. 

The Zooker has been somewhat hampered by the new recruiting regulations, which prevent him and the hardest working staff in college football from, well, outworking the competition.  Yet another case of our good friends at the NCAA doing what they can to protect the sacred cows.  Why, you ask?  Because it’s easier for the Ohio State’s, Notre Dame’s, and USC’s to stockpile talent when they don’t have to look over their shoulder for guys from Illinois, Georgia, or Kansas.  Hence, the current hands-off period.  Hence fewer early signings for the O&B.  This hasn’t stopped the Zooker from landing one of the nation’s top QBs, and 4-star defensive and offensive linemen, respectively.  It has been relatively quiet this summer, though.  Once again, you suck NCAA (but the Zooker will strike back this fall).  On another recruiting downer, blue-chip lineman D’Angelo McCray has left the team for (of all places) EIU.  This after and injury-riddled freshman year and other unhappiness.  Just goes to show what a crapshoot this recruiting game can be.

Finally, we of course have questions about the returning players, who could be poised to breakout, where the holes are, etc.  But we’ll wait until closer to kick-off for that in-depth analysis.  See who’s hurt, who’s ineligible…  For now, based on the Spring reports, summer reading, and general memory, here are your top areas of concern as training camp begins:

  • Running Back
  • Kicker
  • Safety
  • Leaders

So what do you think about the off-season and upcoming campaign?  Chime in with comments below.  More to come…

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