Just the Way It Is...

If Illinois is to be more competitive in 2013, Fletcher Page points out just the way it is...

CHAMPAIGN - This is just the way it is… What happened to Eric Finney this week can't happen to anybody else at Illinois.

Finney will miss the next few weeks after minor knee surgery. He could be back for the season opener, so that's good news. He's a starter, and although he's never played in a Big Ten game, nor did he play a down of football at his junior college last season, he's still considered one of the best 11 defenders the Illini have.

No more injuries can happen if Illinois hopes to improve on last season's 2-10 free fall and become more competitive. We're not talking about wins here. We're talking about being better today than you were yesterday, showing you're heading somewhere in the right direction and building something from which something better can be built upon.

Sure, every football team needs its best players to remain available. But the Illini will have no answer if another handful of starters frequent the training room more often than the field like last year.

Here's the deal… If safety Earnest Thomas gets hurt, the guy behind him, whoever it may be, will have never have played a meaningful snap in his college football life. The guy beside Thomas, Taylor Barton, hasn't either.

The same goes for Houston Bates at Leo, for Eaton Spence and V'Angelo Bentley at cornerback, for Tim Kynard, Jake Howe and Austin Teitsma on the d-line. Hell, of that group, only Bates and Kynard have ever really logged significant playing time.

The offensive line is a group that features five guys that have at least started games sometime in the past. But the second unit reads like this: freshman, redshirt freshman, redshirt freshman, sophomore and senior. Of that second unit, only Jake Feldmeyer has ever seen the field when the game was still within reach. Linebacker is in better shape, so guys like Jonathan Brown, Mason Monheim and Mike Svetina have to make plays.

And the offense has a few areas that have some depth, too. But you already know, it's not depth that's exactly won much of note.

Look, I'm not saying anybody is terrible here. It's just that I don't know if they're terrible or good or anything because they've never played.

The next 20 days will determine who are the best football players on this team. And those players have to stay healthy in order for this team to stay competitive.

You can say Coach Tim Beckman didn't get any help from the previous staff's last two recruiting cycles. You'd be right. He certainly didn't. It's his problem now, though.

You can say the Illini need some luck, but I don't believe in luck. It's a word, but I don't think it's real. Injuries are real. And Illinois can't withstand any. That's just the way it is.

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