Werner's Whits: Hackenberg vs. Lunt

Illini Inquirer publisher Jeremy Werner compares Lunt vs. Hackenberg, speculates on the number of B1G football coach openings after the season and gives thoughts on the Illini pass rush, J.T. Barrett, Illini baseball and Star Wars

Christian Hackenberg is overhyped. I understand the Penn State junior quarterback's offensive line is not very good and that his weapons aren't the best. But watch some Penn State games and you'll see that he holds onto the football too long. But my biggest concern -- especially if I'm an NFL team -- is that he just isn't very accurate. He's completing just 53.1 percent of his passes this season and 56.5 percent of his passes during his career. If you're not accurate in college, you probably won't be accurate in the NFL -- ask Jake Locker. Now, Hackenberg is still an NFL prospect due to his size and arm skill. But since having a fantastic freshman season under Bill O'Brien, he's declined under PSU head coach James Franklin. Hackenberg might be best off just leaving early for the NFL and hooking back up with O'Brien, who desperately needs a QB in Houston. But O'Brien shouldn't take him in the first round, that's for sure.

Take away half of the Illini drops this season (about 20 of 40), and Wes Lunt's completion percentage would be 67 percent and he'd probably have at least 200 more passing yards and a few more touchdowns. The Illini quarterback has been really good this season. I'll take him over PSU's guy. Both have similar builds and strong arms. Yet, while Hackenberg has slightly better mobility, Lunt is more accurate and gets rid of the ball quicker. If he stays healthy the rest of this season, expect him to draw many NFL scouts to Camp Rantoul next season.

How many Big Ten teams will hire new football coaches this winter? Illinois and Maryland both have interim coaches. While Bill Cubit may have a chance to earn the permanent job in Champaign, Mike Locksley has no shot at Maryland. Purdue's Darrell Hazell (5-26 overall, 1-18 Big Ten) has shown no improvement in Year Three, but he has a buyout close to $6 million for the final three seasons of his original six-year contract. Would Purdue spend that to make him go away and then give the next coach $2 million per season? But can you really keep a coach who may have just five wins in three seasons and has shown no progress in recruiting? Indiana's Kevin Wilson looked safe after a 4-0 start, but the Hoosiers are 0-3 with games against Michigan State, Iowa and Michigan next. IU likely would have to win its last two games at Maryland and at Purdue to reach bowl eligibility. Those feel like must-wins for Wilson, who went bowl-less in his first four seasons in Bloomington.  Rutgers could make a move as well, given all the turbulence in Kyle Flood's program this year. At 3-3, the Scarlet Knights need three more wins to earn back-to-back bowls and they'll have to spring an upset to do so. The Big Ten coaching marketplace could be loaded with buyers at the end of the season. It's a good time to be Matt Campbell (Toledo) and Dino Babers (Bowling Green).

Illinois ranks 116th in the country in sacks, but that number seems a bit misleading. The Illini are tied for 15th in the country for tackles for loss, so they're getting disruptions and making plays behind the line of scrimmage. They pressured Tommy Armstrong Jr. and C.J. Beathard but struggled to bring the mobile QBs down. LEO Dawuane Smoot has been fantastic (13.5 TFLs, 5.0 sacks) and DT Chunky Clements (7.0 TFLs, 0.5 sacks) has been in the backfield often. DE Jihad Ward and NT Rob Bain are better against the run than rushing the quarterback, but backup LEO Carroll Phillips is earning more playing time in passing-down subpackages and could become a bigger presence in the pass rush. I'd expect the Illini to get a few more sacks the next couple weeks against more stationary quarterbacks behind shaky offensive lines, like Wisconsin's Joel Stave and Penn State's Christian Hackenberg.

J.T. Barrett should have been the Ohio State starting quarterback from the beginning. Now, Cardale Jones is uber-talented, had an unbelievable three games to lead the Buckeyes to anational title and probably is the better NFL prospect. But Barrett is just as accurate, throws less interceptions and is much more dangerous in the run game. It feels like Urban Meyer wanted to try to win this season with Jones, let him go pro and hand the reins back to Barrett for two more seasons. But Barrett isbetter quarterback for Ohio State right now. It's a great problem to have, but the thought of trying to stop both Barrett and Ezekiel Elliott in the run game, along with Barrett's passing ability, is more terrifying to me than stopping a more stationary Jones.

Illini golf is off to a great start. No surprise, there. The top-ranked Illini won their second-straight tournament title with a come-from-behid performance in the final round at the Tavistock College Invitational at Isleworth Golf and Country Club in Windemere, Fla. The Illini had three golfers finish in the top-7: Nick Hardy (3rd), Dylan Meyer (6th) and Charlie Danielson (T-7th). The Illini lost Big Ten Golfer of the Year Brian Campbell ,but Danielson (ranked No. 6 individually) and fellow senior Thomas Detry have experienced three deep runs in the NCAA Tournament. Talented sophomores Hardy and Meyer each had great success as freshmen. All are fairly consistent and any can win a tournament. The key is getting a few key contributions from senior Alex Burge, who redshirted last season.

Illinois baseball is really young but really talented. I talked with Illini pitching coach Drew Dickinson -- who loses more than 85 percent of his innings pitched from last season's 50-win team -- and he called 6-foot-4 junior Cody Sedlock, who will make the transition from reliever to starter this season, a likely first-round draft pick. The other two starters at this point might be ophomore LHP Doug Hayes (5.0 IP last season) and redshirt freshman RHP Quentin Sefcik.  Senior RHP Nick Blackburn, who told MLB teams not to draft him though he was selected by the Mets in the 22nd round, will stay in the bullpen and provide a stellar back end of the bullpen with LHP J.D. Nielson. Freshman first baseman Luke Schilling likely will hit in the middle of the lineup immediately and has the arm to contribute to the pitching staff as well. Oh, and he's 6-foot-5, 260 pounds.

The "Star Wars: The Force Awakens" trailer is breathtaking. It does a great job of terribly teasing us without giving up much detail. I'm one of the rare ones that actually liked parts of "Episode I: Phantom Menace" but Episode II was just terrible and Episode III was just OK. Nothing will top the originals, but the hope is that George Lucas' terrible scripts of the most recent trilogy and Hayden Christiensen's "acting" don't touch this one. Help us, J.J. Abrams, you're our only hope.

The top movie franchises of all-time? For my tastes, it's 1. Lord of the Rings, 2. Star Wars, 3. The Dark Knight Trilogy, 4. Rocky, 5. The Godfather (love the first two). The Avenger movies are fun but I prefer darker comic book movies. Some of my child franchise favorites: The Mighty Ducks, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and Toy Story.

 


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